Natural Magic on the Orkney Islands: Part Three – Creative Reflections

My holiday diary so far has celebrated the natural magic of the Orcadian landscape. Let me change tack awhile in this post to focus on the magic of creativity.

Stromness is Orkney’s second largest town.  It is a picturesque urban area with lots of interesting nooks and crannies, and a natural harbour from which you can sail to mainland Scotland:

 

Walking along the main street, we came across the Pier Arts Centre, and decided to take a look. From the outside, it was not at all clear what we might find:

 

Incredibly, it turned out to be what artist Patrick Heron describes as “one of the most distinguished and perfect smaller collections of 20th century art on permanent display anywhere in the world”. Packed full of stunning artwork by modern British artists, this gallery is absolutely stunning.  The collection was initially established by a major donation by Margaret Gardiner who was a hugely important champion of British modern art, mainly through the middle of the 20th Century.

I took tons of photos and found it so difficult to pick a few for this post – everything seemed to be a favourite. So here are some of my favourite favourites, as it were (click to enlarge, and for captions):

 

 

 

 

Experiencing this gallery is not just about looking at the collection: the building and surroundings are just as captivating:

 

I loved all the textures, light and reflections, which drew together perfectly the interior and exterior.  In this picture by Alan Reynolds, you can see reflected the mask by Martin Boyce, and the harbour beyond. It seems particularly apt that the Boyce sculpture is called ‘Everything Is Outside’:

Alan Reynolds: Modular Study (1) (1981)

Martin Boyce: Everything is Outside (2009)

(PS a close look at the centre of this harbour photo reveals the seal which was happily bobbing about)

Back on the inside/outside theme, I also loved this brilliant Cursiter painting, which reflects the room in which it is hanging, as well as the street outside, in turn mirroring Cursiter’s painting Bernstane House, which hangs at right angles to the window:

Stanley Cursiter: Red Laquer (1922)

In the window: Ian Scott: George Mackay Brown (1991)

Stanley Cursiter: Berstane House (c1935)

 

And finally, look at the exquisite placing of this Hepworth sculpture against the undulating shapes and colours of the water and kelp outside:

Barbara Hepworth: Large and Small Form (1934)

 

This gallery gives the viewer a totally immersive and highly memorable art experience, all for free which is amazing. Margaret Gardiner was visionary in her generosity – what an incredible woman she clearly was.  And everyone involved in presenting the collection, and running the gallery in general, are to be congratulated on a stunning achievement.

I have not even scratched the surface of the gallery’s riches in this post, even though it is very photo-heavy.  Plenty more can be seen on the gallery’s website which I highly recommend for more information about its 40-year journey and the collection.  And of course, this is a must-visit destination for anyone on the Orkney Mainland.

Finally, although I hesitate to do so in such august artistic company, I should note that the featured image at the top of this post is a digital painting by me, inspired by the colours of the following painting by Callum Innes.  Margaret Gardiner’s donation is described by the gallery as ‘an unfolding gift’. I feel privileged to have spent time in, and benefitted from, this amazing place of magical creativity.

Callum Innes: Exposed Deep Violet, Charcoal Black (2004)

 

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Outsiders to Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

 

It’s the beginning of another month, which means that it is time once again to indulge in the glorious adventure that is  ‘Six Degrees of Separation’. This is a meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a common starting point and participants then link to six other books to form a chain. It is endlessly amazing to see all the different results and I love making my contribution.

We kick of this month with S E Hinton’s The Outsiders. It is 50 years since this classic tale of teenage rebellion was published. I decided to re-read it prior to this post, finding that it has definitely stood the test of time.

For my first link, I opted for an opposite, picking something relating to ‘insiders’. I have recently started reading The Eye by Philippe Costamagna. Sub-titled ‘An Insider’s Memoir of Masterpieces, Money and the Magnetism of Art’, it reveals the intriguing life of connoisseurs devoted to the authentication and discovery of Old Master art works. The blurb states that it is ‘an eloquent argument for the enduring value of visual creativity, told with passion, brilliance and surprising candor’.

Thinking about art and passion takes me on to my next title, which is The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice by Judith Mackrell. This is about the lives of three ‘unconventional’ women and their connections with an abandoned Venetian palace against the background of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. I’m looking forward to reading it!

Another book set in Venice which I very much enjoyed when it was first published is Miss Garnet’s Angel by Sally Vickers. This is a touching and beautiful story about a teacher coming to terms with retirement, interwoven with a re-examination of the ancient biblical story of Tobias and the Angel. I am definitely going to re-read this one.

And for my fourth link, I can draw on both the reference to garnets, and the name Tobias in the form of The Love of Stones by Tobias Hill. I have read this twice in the past – I very much enjoyed the engrossing story of three people’s quest to discover a legendary jewel. Set across two centuries and six continents, it’s a marvellous adventure. This is calling out for a re-read too!

Another type of ‘love of stones’ can be found in Tracy Chevalier’s fabulous novel Remarkable Creatures, which fictionalises the life of Mary Anning and her involvement with fossil hunting around Lyme Regis and the UK’s famous jurassic coast. She is these days rightly hailed as a pioneering scientist who contributed to changes in thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth. Brilliant – and surely another candidate for a re-read lol!

And finally, mention of all things remarkable takes me along to another of my favourite subjects, namely ‘books about books’. Christopher de Hamel’s Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts acquaints us with important and beautiful artefacts we could never hope to see in person, exploring their impact on and contribution to culture and humanity.

So, as usual, I have travelled to unexpected places on my literary journey. I could not have foreseen that a novel about teenage gangs could lead to a beautiful academic reference work.  With these posts, I always like to see whether I can make the linear chain into a circle without being too convoluted. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that the end of the chain links back to the beginning through a shared interest in understanding different lives, cultures and perspectives. Perhaps that is a common thread through all these titles, and indeed through all books. Now there’s a PhD thesis in waiting!

Next month we start with Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. Tune in then folks for more literary fun and frolics. And in the meantime why not check out my accompanying playlist post over on my music blog Leaping Tracks. It gives me great pleasure to pair my book chains with musical associations and I hope you enjoy it too. 🙂