At the beginning of March 2020 I went to see the Paula Rego exhibition in Edinburgh and, on returning home, I realised that I had been drawn to the expressive way in which she depicts hands. Almost all the characters were posed with their hands visible and they were portrayed as a microcosm of the expressive mood of the whole – I was fascinated. This led me to refer to the drawing of the Old Masters, from Leonardo to Van Gogh, and I realised that the depiction of hands in the history of art tends to be hands in action, hands gesticulating.
Since the first lockdown in 2020 I have been lucky enough to have much more time in my studio. Our business ground to a halt and this proved an opportunity to engage more fully with my creative practice. Inspired by Paula Rego, someone whose drawing and powerful feminist vision I admire, I asked my husband to pose as my model and began a series of drawings of his hands. Hands, not in action, but in repose.
As the spring continued, I created a series of drawings of hands, from sketchbook to large imperial sized drawings, some created by tying chalk to a cane. It became clear that hands had become a powerful icon for the sensory communication we all need and that haptic communication is a crucial part of our human experience. We were prevented from touching our loved ones and had to wash our hands continuously. For me, hands had became a symbol for our experience of Covid and of lockdown.
During the summer of 2020 I was invited to take part in a local, funded project based on the concept of ‘Consequences’ named ‘Highland Whispers’. It was commissioned as part of the Royal National Mòd and I was one of five creatives from different disciplines asked to respond to the five senses whilst in isolation. In turn I received work from the others. I chose the concertina format, partly because it was easy to post, but also because it is a favourite form which enables me to work en plain air with a compact kit of materials. By the end of the project I had made five concertinas of the same size but of very different subjects and mood.
They now appear on a website being launched on April 26th to coincide with an exhibition in Ullapool at
https://www.antallasolais.org/ 26.4-20.5.2021 or online www.highlandwhispers.co.uk.
Here are three of the concertina books I made.
“My father died forty years ago. We have a pair of ravens nesting near our house and every time one of the pair sits in a tree, calling, I like to imagine it is my father keeping a protective eye over us. We frequently see them, either together or as singletons, flying over the garden. You can hear the rustle of their feathers as they pass. It always surprises me how close they sound, especially when you see how high they fly.”
“I worked on top of a set of old drawings that I had torn into the correct size to give a sense of the past and layers of experience.“
“We live next to a glen that is said to have been the home of more than three hundred souls but which now has no evidence of habitation except for one ruin. I started my work by visiting the ruin. Local mythology tells of a murder committed there. By spending the day, walking and then drawing, I opened myself, with the help of meditation, to the atmosphere. I sensed a feeling of dis-ease but who knows what I already carried with me in terms of expectation and projection.“
People often visit the Highlands with the belief that we live in virgin landscape, wild country with no past except for nature. How wrong they are. Our hills are filled with human history and they have probably not been as empty as they are now for millennia. Human intervention is in evidence everywhere and now often managed by people who don’t venture out and enact government policy with drones and a computer from a desk. New fencing marches across hills as grants are administered for landscape restoration with little knowledge of the specific place. Humans were replaced by sheep but the sheep have now left and are replaced with deer as a few privileged people galavant round the hills in the name of sport. The flora is impoverished, the fauna dwindles and the Highlands fulfils the saying of Frank Fraser Darling when he described it as a “wet desert.”
I have chosen to accompany my piece with a recording of the call of the curlew, a bird now placed on the “red list” as a bird of conservation concern, category 4 (the worst).
“The most noticeable thing is that we’ve got a number of new upland species on the red list. So we have increased concern there, particularly for curlews as our UK population is internationally important. We have about a quarter of the world’s curlews breeding in the UK and we know that they are doing badly elsewhere as well. So there is real international concern for curlew.” (www.rspb.org)
So this piece is dedicated to the people and the birds who once lived in the Highland glens and in particular Glen Gour in the parish of Ardgour, Lochaber.
I have chosen to make my piece about moss and its evocative smell.
The concertina book is laminated with the pages of the International Oak Society, Membership Directory 2003-2004. I chose to use these old pages as a reference to the concept of the past and of memory.
The subject is the Oak Woodland that we have here and the piece was made from drawings done in the Ariundle Nature Reserve, part of the Sunart Oakwoods Initiative, Ardnamurchan and Morvern.