Painting in Schaldewage

Our Studio Open Day…painting by Sarah R. Key (left) two of mine on the right

Imagine its around 1420 and a ship is sailing north, away from the leading Hanseatic League port of Bergen, having left Bremen or Hamburg some time ago, and making for Hillswick, its destination to trade goods for salted fish, lamb and skins.  Although on the last leg of its long journey it espies rough weather from the west and puts into the natural harbour of Schaldewage or Scalloway as we now know it. At that time the place is part of the Norse rule of the Islands, in fact it is only a couple miles south of Tingaholm, the Thing, where laws are debated and enforced.  Until a century and a half later when Earl Robert Stewart moves it to the town, where twenty or so years on his son Patrick Stewart (presumably before becoming ‘Professor Charles Xavier’ or Jean Luc Picard – ha ha) builds his spanking new castle in the ‘town’ and the ‘ancient capital’ of the Islands.  The town sits on the bottom end of the Nesting Fault, a splay of the Walls Boundary Fault, itself possibly connected to the great Glen Fault.


So The Booth is situated in an immensely rich and interesting location.  Literally on the edge of the fault, the Castle a few yards away, the water of the harbour right below our window. Do learning about any of these things influence the production of abstract paintings I wonder? I’m just one of many artists who occasionally talk airily about ‘a sense of place’…but what does it actually mean?  I’m ploughing my way, painfully slowly, through Mary Jacobus’s Reading Cy Twombly (its a very rich and rewarding book but requires a great deal of contextual understandings!) and she quotes from Shelley “Naught may endure but mutability” in regard to Twombly’s Letter of Resignation.  The line has resonances for me every time I look up and out into the harbour and the ocean road beyond it…the sea and its ever changing moods and cadences.  And perhaps its that, more than anything, that creates ‘a sense of place’.


ATA…part two

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It’s the view from the Palazzo Falier…quite something really and it takes an artist with a certain amount of chutzpah to pit a body of work against it…but its a quality you can never deny Sean Scully.  As it happens I’m a total devotee (I was once substantially responsible for putting together his first mini-retrospective) though neither of my colleagues on this occasion are quite as taken with his work.  To be absolutely frank even I felt that some of the pieces here were falling a little short.  I really love these large interlocking pictures…

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and those chosen here were as good as any I’ve seen.  These Doric paintings have all that brooding melancholy and delicious surfaces.  The Landline series pushes the simplicity of form to the outer limits for these vehicles for colour and the introduction of some lurid greens was for me a little jarring.

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And the two really large pictures that pushed together several of these broad horizontal formats looked a tad bombastic and pedestrian.

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All that said Scully is still one of the best abstract painters in the world and the best pictures are superb so I’m carping really.  When he gets it right (and thats most of the time) he’s just spellbinding…and here there were enough paintings of that quality to satisfy.  And alongside the paintings were some ravishing pastels…

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So all good in the end.  By this time we had done a fair bit of looking…time for some lunch so off to one of the city’s best bacaro’s…Gia Schiavi.  The cicchetti here are just beautiful to look at and better to eat.  The creamed cod fish is to die for.  We might have simply holed up there for the rest of the afternoon except we wanted to do a mini giro d’ombra so we made a beeline for All’Arco…expecting it to be crammed…but we arrived a little late for lunch so the pace had slackened off.

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Here I had two glasses of house Red…one to go with the cicchetti and another to celebrate the election of Jeremy Corbyn as our new leader!  We picked up the news on our mobiles as we arrived.  A little later we turned the corner to take in our third bacaro Do Mori.  By this time it had thinned out a fair bit and we could admire this gem…said to be one of the oldest in the city.  I was taken with the ceiling decor!

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As a great day out drew to a close we just had time to visit Ca’ Pesaro for the Cy Twombly show. Not a moment too soon as it closed a day later…  It was a rather patchy display overall but not without some interesting and unusual works including several early paintings and some fairly uncharacteristic pieces.

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Take for example this curious little drawing above from 1966.  Or these canvases with the swirls of high keyed colour…

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But here too it was hard not to be impressed at the sheer energy and exuberance of a major artist.  These four canvases said to be half of the last group of works he ever painted say it all really…raging against the dying of the light.  A lesson for us all maybe…

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