2020 has given us all time and cause to look more closely at our natural surroundings. Three artists who do just that are Mark Hearld and mother and son artists, Frances Macdonald and Ross Ryan. This December, The Scottish Gallery stages their exhibitions concurrently at its Edinburgh gallery, looking at the harsh natural conditions we endure as well as the power of nature to bring and nurture life.
Macdonald and Ryan’s joint exhibition, A Family Affair, explores their shared artistic tropes as they both represent the landscape of Scotland’s islands and west coast, working in nature, directly in front of the subject. Both use oil paint and other media, drawing with the brush or palette knife to make urgent, swift marks that capture the fleeting effects and drama of changing weather. They also share Crinan where the Ryan family have run The Crinan Hotel since the mid-seventies, from where Ryan left for school, then art school and extensive travel. But the beauty of Argyll drew him back, as well as the responsibility of Sgarbh, a wooden boat and sometimes floating studio, tourist boat, or star of screen!
Earlier this year, Ryan held his second solo exhibition with The Gallery but, due to lockdown sweeping the country, not a single person was able to attend. Macdonald has been a regular exhibitor with The Gallery for years with her distinctive Hebridean seascapes and landscapes showing the repeated motifs of Iona, The Mull of Kintyre, the bays around Crinan, and the view across to Jura and the Corryvreckan.
Like a good modernist Macdonald is reluctant to give any commentary on her works but Ryan, on the other hand, makes extensive notes on his journeys allowing us to understand how hard-won the paintings are, particularly in winter when the harsh conditions create privations and huge physical problems. Each painting becomes a manifestation and record of time and place. His affinity with the natural world is reflected in his long-term project of setting messages in bottles on the ocean which brings him encounters as he journeys to meet the people who find them, and make new works at the location of the find.
Running concurrently will be an exhibition of new works by Mark Hearld who also takes inspiration from the natural world, particularly the British flora and fauna, the fox and chicken, hedgerow, and songbird. His prints, woodcut and linocuts, patterns and motifs are drawn from a lifetime of looking at pattern books, samplers, primitive art, and the poetry of Blake. His works transport us to an animal-filled world.
For Mark Hearld’s Menagerie, the animal kingdom parades across his artworks; the sly fox, strutting cockerel, the blackbird singing his heart out, the geese on the green at Carnyorth, and fields of Jersey cows in rich pastures. His whippet, Blue, whom he shares with his parents, has shared lockdown, the artist walking “by myself, but not alone,” sharing the joy of the dog’s live world and elegant shapes. Travelling to Cornwall provided much new material for the show, living in the county which nurtured and shaped some many of the most original of British painters: Wallis, Heron, Nicholson and Christopher Wood give Hearld the energy to create.
Accompanying the exhibition will be a publication which contains a special menagerie treasure hunt. There is an original Mark Hearld work of to be won, with several runner up prizes for those who work out the letter puzzle.