The Playroom of Discovery

  • Published on: 16th August 2019
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Why an artist and why the Outer Hebrides?

It was my father who first introduce me to the Outer Hebrides. In his later years he had taken to leaving my mother for a couple of weeks during the summer months and heading north of the border in his little camper van. I never asked him why he didn’t take my mother with him on these trips as it was all too obvious on his return that this was something he needed to do alone.

He would then studiously sort through his photos putting them into albums over the winter months, correctly place named with an accompanying hand drawn map of the route taken. Apart from discussions about antiques, the photos of Scotland became one of our few points of contact and I treasure the only letter he wrote to me in his life that mentions how he regretted not being able to draw or paint and in saying that he believed I could.

He loved the islands, or as he put it, anywhere that doesn’t have a bridge or require a passport.

On my first visit to Huisinish I found myself talking to an elderly woman. Wild hair tied back in Alice band fashion with a scrap of colourful fabric, she had waved to me as I made my way passed the few empty houses that could not seriously be called a street.

I’ve found travelling alone seems to bring me more readily into conversation with people and with sketchbook in hand they are immediately intrigued. She was delighted to learn that my father had camped there on the machair four years previously and suggested I bring him with me on my next visit. I left her waving from her doorstep, preferring not to explain that I had only the week before scattered his ashes on our old island of Davaar in the mouth of Campbelltown harbour.

A couple of years later after spending the inheritance on buying my New Tolsta crofters’ cottage I found myself looking through one of his albums of the Outer Hebrides. I discovered a photo showing that he had overnighted down at Traigh Mhor beach and before leaving Tolsta he had taken a photograph looking up towards my house.

Seeking our father’s approval has for many sons been a fruitless endeavour and for me it has only been since his death, that now looking out from my studio window down to the single track road where he took that photo, and beyond to the endless expanse of moorland and cliffs stretching northward to Ness, that I have felt what seems like approval.

As to why become an artist I don’t think I had any choice in the matter, it was my destiny and whatever else I did in life, whether that be ballet dancer or hill sheep farmer, eventually I would have to accept that I was an artist. In a world full of suffering I find art makes it a little more bearable. And so, I make things, all sorts of things.

On occasions people have told me they enjoyed looking at these things and very occasionally someone will want to buy. That still remains an extra ordinary compliment that someone wishes to pay me for something that I have created with my own hands, but the ultimate compliment is when they go just one step further and risk everything to steal it.

It may only be a few bits of driftwood, some shells or feathers that when collected from the beach or roadside have no real worth, but what I have subsequently made with them hopefully has value.

Much of my work since coming to the islands entails reusing materials whether that be the detritus of nature or the discarded by-product of the fabric industry. My embroidery pieces can take many months to complete and often people assume I must have tremendous patience, but I would apply this only to that which is creative as I find waiting in line extremely difficult.

Living without television, telephone or internet connection and being neither married or having children allows me to be in control of my time and, whether it be the vastness of this planet and beyond or the intimacy of my studio, it is all a playroom of discovery.