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’.
So shortly we are off to the Shetlands, to Scalloway and to The Booth. For a month we will be living and working there and it is always tricky on such an expedition deciding what to take by way of materials. You don’t want to be too prescriptive on the one hand but properly equipped on the other. Especially so as material supplies may be tricky there (though of course it might be much easier than I’m imagining). Nonetheless I have drafted a sort of plan! Some time back I was rather taken by a small clutch of Knitting Sheaths that reside in the museum there – I’m hoping to see them during our stay.
And I’ve riffed on them over the past few months in photoshop…so I have at least the beginning of imagery that hopefully relates to my Wonky Geometry. Then a trip to the Ashmolean a while back with my pal Simon to see the wonderful Raphael drawing show had us wandering through the room of Japanese scrolls – kakejuki…brilliant! Just the thing for a trip away…paper based and roll em’ up to transport back easily.
Above another small painting on paper from the Deadly Delicious series back in 2012…yours for an awfully (almost obscenely) cheap price at the Harrington Mill Studios Xmas Sale! (Shameless plug no. 2). Yes your Xmas could come early if you fetched up from 12 noon this Sunday!
And for myself and my wife Xmas really has come early with the news reaching us of the opportunity to spend August 2017 at The Booth in Scalloway! We visited Shetland back in 2014 and found out about the place then. It’s exciting as our recent two weeks at Brisons Veor on Cape Cornwall has to be the UK’s most southerly Artists’ Residency and I’m pretty sure The Booth has to be the most northerly?
The timeframe is good because it gives time for reflections and connections as to what to do whilst in residence. I’ve already researched some of the previous residents and their activities and of course one of the easiest ways to use the opportunity is to reflect the amazing land and sea scape. There’s nothing wrong with that but bringing something new to that is a pretty tricky business…thinking caps will be coming into play!
Our experience in Summer 2014 was quite exceptional…not least the couple days of glorious sunshine. Some more of that would be welcome but over the course of a month, even in summer, we may expect some more rugged activity. As one can see its location gives plenty of opportunity to savour it up close.