‘There is an equilibrium here
a balance of hill and valley
of movement in cloud and stream
of curlew cry and wind murmur
of wind lull and heart beat
and on a walk,
the balance between the outgoing
and the homecoming
the inner reflection on the day.’
An exhibition of the collaborative work of Ian Giles, Andy Heald and Gavin MacGregor
Ian was born in Glasgow in 1949 and moved from Ayrshire to Caithness in 1973. Now retired from engineering practice he explores the abstract visualisation of engineering principles whilst also exploring their relation to the natural environment. Ian has exhibited throughout the Highlands and has commissions and works in private collections across Scotland.
My work derives in part from a long and rewarding career in engineering which informs and underpins my work. Experience of the natural world through engineering brings a close appreciation of the might and of the delicacy and fragility of our surroundings – all of which influences my work.
Gavin has been exploring past dimensions of landscape for over twenty years, often as an archaeologist, but also through creative responses to place. He seeks to reveal beyond the picturesque, the complex, dynamic and contested nature of peoples’ relationships with landscape.
My journey took me from the north coast of Caithness to its east coast. Starting at Thurso, I travelled for five days, through different landscapes. Ranging from the cattle farmlands, through the Flow Country, the large areas of commercial forestry, through the deer moorlands, the rough grazing of sheep, amongst the ruins of house and field systems, arriving back at the coastal settlement of Dunbeath.
Different encounters and discoveries were revealed during my journey. In these farmed and managed landscapes, the space for wildlife is limited, but a constant presence was the birds, if I couldn’t see them, their sounds were never distant. Only once was their absence notable, when heavy rain confined me to the tent for several hours, but it was the songbirds who let me know the weather was clearing and it was time to move on. It was also the animals who guided my way at times. When not travelling on clearly defined roads and people paths, particularly across the moorland, I soon found myself following deer paths which revealed an elegant efficiency of how they travel through the landscape.
The textual, photographic and sculptural pieces are responses to key encounters during my journey drawing them together as several interwoven strands: the dynamics of the birds, the tracks of the animals and inevitably the traces of people who also journeyed and lived in these landscapes. The story of people trying to sustain lives in rural landscapes is written in the settlements. Scatters of boats and bothies cast across the landscape are testimony to other unwitnessed dramas. Yet there was also surprising drama, in the lives of the birds and animals, the osprey hunting, the gulls chasing and mobbing the heron, the calls of the lapwing as they defended their nests. In reality a struggle for territory and sustenance, where you, your eggs or young may be food for another: at times the raw energy of life was overwhelming. Other encounters, revealed a balance, the timid tenderness of the hind and its fawn, as they watched my progress through their land.
These are not separate stories, they are inter-linked with the story of people, they are one, they are landscape, they offer moments of equilibrium.
Andy has been exploring landscapes across Scotland for two decades, as an archaeologist, writer and most recently as an artist. A dedication to, celebration of, and involvement in the cultural and natural environment is intrinsic to all his work. Andy often paints en plein air and begins by using acrylic, sand, clay, plants and emulsion. He then creates the finished work by excavating the canvas, the earlier media scratched and scrubbed off with pencils to create the final, abstract pieces.
When painting he is drawn to the ever-changing appearances of our shared environment and attempts to catch these fleeting moments and elements. He is equally concerned with capturing the transient interactions between people and nature. In Andy’s paintings there is always a landscape or seascape element but often the need to quickly capture what is before his eyes is more important, as is documenting his own interaction and attitude with a particular time and place. Andy’s work has been described as ‘elemental abstract art’. Andy regularly exhibits in galleries in and around Edinburgh, East Lothian and the Scottish Borders and his work is in private and corporate collections across the UK.
In There is an equilibrium here Andy develops his interests in people and place further. He uses four main tools: the canvas itself, the mixed media used, the scenes depicted, and his painting technique.
The main body of work consists of two paintings: Outgoing and Homecoming. The size and horizontal shape of the canvases convey the vastness and openness of the Caithness landscape; but the canvases are also timelines. As the viewer works from left to right across each painting they travel through 10,000 years of a Caithness landscape. The deliberate, but subtle, use of mixed media, colours and marks (folds and creases) at different junctures across the paintings represent different times. The left hand side of the first painting Outgoing is a virgin landscape; as one works along the painting they pass through evidence of Caithness’ earliest inhabitants until one reaches the right-hand corner where modernity is in view. The sequence is reversed in the second painting Homecoming. Further, the interactions between people and nature are subtly depicted at key points across both timelines: deforestation and over-grazing set against the natural cycles of climate and geological change within this latest, but not last, interglacial period.
By making these subtle inferences through what is, at first glance, two paintings of a landscape that could be viewed as capturing only one moment in time, the viewer is invited to pause and look even closer at and within the artwork and consider equilibrium – the scale at which different patches and boundaries are viewed alters our perception of heterogeneity. Further, the viewer is encouraged to ask: how did people affect our environment at different times? What were the outcomes and consequences? What marks have they left on nature? And how do we recognise and decode these interactions through different lenses and perspectives? Complex, disjointed, fractious, seemingly life-changing events may completely disappear as the scale at which they are viewed increases.
If we sit back and take a broader, focused, perspective – would anyone notice we had been here? Perhaps it is the enduring, extraordinary and powerful side of nature that leaves a bigger mark. Perhaps there is an equilibrium here, even if we may not immediately notice it during our hectic lives.