'Stewards of the Undying Deer Cult Series: The Problem of the Glen'. Ink on Board. 41.5 x 67 cm. (for sale, email if interested)
Inspired by Edwin Landseer's 'Monarch of the Glen', which is now part of the #ScotNatGallery, who describe it evasively as 'for many people it encapsulates the grandeur and majesty of Scotland’s highlands and wildlife'. A nice gloss but as a man of the Scottish woods, so much is missing. No mention of the bald majestic highland's habitat destruction and deforestation caused by an increase in deer numbers. Nothing of our bizarre fixation which drove those numbers to increase, the cult of the wealthy to shoot for 'sport' and stuff the obligatory dead horned head on a wall. This incredible yet totally passive animal (herds swollen to long term habitat destruction) is venerated as the 'prize' while the old wild gods such as wolf, bear, lynx and boar are now allowed on the land in placenames only (positively the beaver has just had it's citizenship restored).
The red deer were a later wave of profitable killable lawnmowers, the first were the sheep which helped the clearances, both of these ungulates eat saplings which if left unchallenged for 250 years will stop any new trees from growing, therefore not allowing any old woodlands to regenerate.
Judge me by how many points my deadhead has (24), Landseer's had 12, making it a 'royal' stag by someone's account.
Thoughts such as these bubbled up regularly as part of the #rahoyhillsreserve residency, a rewilding nature reserve with far too many deer on it, however I think about these things whenever I drive to the remote isolated pockets of true highland majesty that still grow, where (for usually only a few square miles) one can be surrounded by the old forest, where some old wilderness can still be glimpsed, the one we almost destroyed completely.
Alright, its here, I'm starting to breathe again… my exhibition 'Wild Hanging Woods' opens this Friday at Resipole Studios! The works are inspired by my time on the Rahoy Hills Nature Reserve, on Ardtornish Estate. Again I cannot thank Fife Contemporary enough for the funding to pursue this adventure, many new territories have been covered and great local folk have been met. My thanks also to Anna Raven for her support and the decision made by the reserve committee to have me as artist in residence. Also my thanks to Steve the ranger, the true artist and warden of the reserve.
‘My time as artist in residence on the Rahoy Hills Nature Reserve came at a transitory time and has a curious tale... I came to my first period of residence in February having just moved out of my home in Fife that afternoon. As darkness gathered, I chased the constellation of Cygnus flying head first down a dark Glen Coe and arrived at Ferry Cottage late in the evening with a car full of belongings, completely exhausted. I then spent three amazing and restorative weeks regularly visiting the reserve alone or with Steve the ranger. At the end of the residency, I drove south to prepare to fly to China later that week, to Chong Qing where my wife was lecturing there in the Sichuan Centre for Fine Arts. We lived at the edge of a city of 30 million people and I considered the differences of there and here: the space at the western edge of Scotland and the intensity of a thriving Chinese megacity.
I had time to make art there and made small studies from the many photographs I had taken on the reserve. My thoughts were often somewhere between the mossy boulders, heavy oak trunks and the edge of Loch Arienas. Meanwhile, my feet stood on the seventeenth story of an apartment block looking down onto a rising concrete metropolis; its concrete foundations continuously growing out of a patchwork of sprawling old Chinese farmland.
During my time in China, I had a solo exhibition in Taiwan, which I had spent the last year preparing for. We embarked on several adventures across China and over the weeks I slowly continued to make small works about a remote nature reserve at the western edge of my homeland.
After four months in Asia, I returned to Scotland at the end of July and quickly gathered my things to spend two weeks back out on the verdant summery reserve before trying to find a new home. Since then I have been living in Glasgow, making the work for this exhibition and busily studying for a PGDE at Strathclyde. I feel like I have lived many lives this year, yet throughout all of it, a constant has been with me...
On the opposite shore of Loch Arienas is the wood; in the dark twiggy gloom over there a steep-sided burn pours over crystal studded boulders. Steep sides give way to a wide gorge that the burn has carved into the hillside for a long time. Moss greens abound around there, the oak trunks, branches and boulders are soft with their deep moss blankets. On one side of the burn, a huge beech reaches into the void. On the other, a tall grove of emerald green pines stand lilac and lofty. The glistening noise of the burn hypnotises.
You can find some quiet shelter and look out from the cave up on Beinn Uamha. From the hilltop and looking northeast the cold wind blasts. Down there are swathes of moor and further away rising out of the heather is the snow-covered slopes and crags of Beinn na Ladain. Isolation here. A beautiful yet haunting melancholy washes over.
Back in the stillness of the wood, nose touching the old oak trunks, gaze at the many structures of moss, lichen, epiphyte and bryophyte.
So many patterns, forms, and colours to these mosses and lichens. These are at the edge of my knowledge: a state of open unknowing can take hold gazing at these fractals. They are there.
Focusing on the phenomena to just be there with it: a man within the landscape alone becomes together for a time. Above signalling time to move on. It is man's landscape. Geometric deer fences enclose an overgrazed woodland, the wood itself a forgotten plantation for charcoal burning - the mossy platforms for this practice can still be found - and the old lichen-rich ruins of a few at the loch's edge. The loch's edge... the moon's rippling reflection and the green soft trunks of the old oaks and the faraway sound of the burn.’
I'm really enjoying my time back in Scotland, mainland China was a complex experience. Coming back to Ferry Cottage on Lochaline feels like I've come back to a (temporary) home. For the first time I had a drop in motivation and creative energy whilst in Chong Qing, however in the last few days out here on the west coast of my homeland I dont feel I have to try and be creative, its more an energy working through me again. I've been going for a morning dip in the sea loch which has been quite amusing, a good hot shower in the cottage sorts the chills out very quick. At some point I will upload some China posts. At another point I will upload some detailed ravings on my time here on the west, along with the small works I've been making here and in China.