John Kinross Scholar in 2017
How did the experience affect you as an individual?
The John-Kinross scholarship was a rewarding time for many reasons. It would be difficult to list them all in a single report. As an individual, I have found myself at most ease living in the countryside of Ireland. Had I not been awarded this scholarship I don’t think I would have travelled to Italy for a long time. I find it difficult to leave a studio routine that goes between Glasgow and Ireland. For this reason, the trip was a unique opportunity and as a result, liberating, uplifting and perhaps life-changing for me.
On return I feel more knowledgeable, focused and with that more passionate about drawing, painting and printmaking. In addition, I have grown more inquisitive about the world beyond my studio. The timing of the trip was perfect as I travelled a few days after the opening of my solo show ‘Notes from the West’ at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh. On reflection, the scholarship provided the creative nourishment and distance away from my own practice that was necessary after a year of making work for two exhibitions. Although I struggled to make paintings on the trip, the experience enabled me to return to Glasgow with newfound enthusiasm, perspective and an alternative outlook.
Not only did the scholarship influence my practice but I was equally inspired to witness the pride Italians take in their culture and ancestry. Creativity thrives in Florence and enlivens the city. It comes in a variety of forms such as marbled paper stationery, hand painted majolicas and Tuscan pottery. In spite of all threats, such as pollution, flooding, World War II, the Italian nation values and celebrates its roots and has preserved Florence’s heritage remarkably.
Living there undoubtedly made me curious to delve into the origins of the productive and creative wealth surrounding me. Since the Renaissance began in the 15th century it seems the city has been a small epicenter of unique and high aspirations. It was a joy to live and walk daily where so many great poets, artists and innovators had many centuries ago. My time there was mainly spent attending museums which began on the first day when I visited the Galleria dell’Accademia.
Michelangelo, like so many sculptors of his time, studied the human body and its muscle function in great scrutiny in order to build sculptural giants signifying vigor, pride and power. Similarly, artists of this period learned and applied the mathematics of linear perspective to their paintings in order to achieve spatial depth. Painters began to place figures in front of identifiable landscapes and sought to portray human emotion and historical anecdotes. Sculptors such as Donatello brought psychological realism to works such as The Penitent Mary Magdalene. Perhaps this would have not all been possible without generous patrons such as the renowned De Medici family.
I feel the city still buzzes with the unyielding passion, persistence and energy these individuals put into their practice. Their spirits still roam the city, living in churches, architecture, art masterpieces and treasures which seem only ever a few feet away. In Florence the past merges with the present, stimulating and inspiring future generations.
What was the impact on your practice?
As I have said, it was a pleasure to live there for just over a month. Being surrounded by so much innovation, artistry and culture I naturally grew more open minded and positive as both painter and person. Since my return I have revisited the subject of landscape with more informed but crucially, fresh eyes. As I have mentioned in my longer report, I attended a range of exhibitions but was predominantly inspired by the Macchiaoili group and Pietro Annigoni for reasons I will discuss below.
As a young artist working in oil paint it was fascinating for me to view the works of Pietro Annigoni. I was astounded by his original treatment of such simple subjects. Some of his most memorable, compelling works are no larger than a postcard. When exhibited together they demonstrate an extensive range of oil painting techniques. A few seascapes are calm, minimal and subdued. They quietly but sensitively capture the mood, motion, and fleeting effects of light on sea. In others strong, impassioned brushstrokes sweep across the surface, intuitively expressing the full force and impact of an oncoming wave. His treatment of the landscape of Tuscany is equally profound and poetic. Natural forms ignite his painterly imagination, inventiveness and vision. Annigoni can capture a range of natural forms, moods and settings; from a subtle landscape in muted tones to a fiery sunset featuring intense shadows and dramatic, jagged and loose dark trees. Regardless of subject, he asserted power and meaning to everything he saw whether it was in pencil, paint, china ink or chalk.
Aside from being highly professional, independent and strong minded Annigoni was an intellectual painter. He understood the scientific techniques of the masters; of perspective, design and colour. In spite of this profound, unwavering knowledge, he does not hesitate to experiment with materials. In every sketch we get the sense that he is still learning, curious and discovering as he creates. Other great artists shared this same approach such as Titian who declared he was ‘still learning’ at the later part of his life. Like the old masters, he adored a simple graphite line and saw no limits to what it could uncover.
Since reviewing these works, my respect for drawing has been restored and I am eager to make this a larger part of my practice again. In his biography Annigoni said ‘Drawing is the will to define and narrate. It is above all the voice of the spirit’. I believe returning to etching and life drawing classes will help me to learn and think about tone, form and composition. Ultimately, I hope that it will lend more purpose to the colour in painting and push me to use my medium more inventively. The time away allowed me to reflect on what makes the landscape an appealing subject matter. Since the scholarship I have returned home to Ireland where trees which were once familiar now look different, eerie and compelling. Certain lights and landscapes stay in my mind and hold more value to me than before.
As I said, my appreciation for sketching has been renewed and for this reason I am returning to etching. It will be beneficial and energising to meet and interact with other artists of all ages. In my studio I have become more professional by creating a more organised, lighter space for myself in order to work from life with more ease. This will hopefully help me to grow more assured in my own vision and capabilities.
What would you say the long-term impact has been on yourself and your work?
As I have mentioned before, I am more open minded about the world beyond Scotland, Great Britain and Ireland. Since graduating I have been exercising a regular studio routine between Ireland and Glasgow. I feel more motivated to travel and now understand the benefit of this. My new long-term aim is to explore alternative landscapes offering different lights and forms. Having reviewed the works of painters who explored Italy, I see how eventually I could use materials differently. Countless features of Tuscan countryside would make it tremendous subject matter for painting; its flame shaped cypress trees, dramatic steep terracing, the clay landscape of Siena, and little houses built on high hilltops. Up until recently farmers were unable to afford modern machinery and relied on traditional methods of farming. For this reason, the landscape beyond Florence remains unspoiled and a terrific subject matter for a landscape painter. Equally, I would love to explore the sun-drenched walls, window boxes, buildings of rural villages where the Macchaoili made their first oil sketches in spring. It would be wonderful to travel to Tuscany in those months to see the vibrant meadows which inspired the flora in Botticelli’s Primavera and I would love to become more accustomed to Tuscan delicacies, produce and traditions.
It has been beneficial to review how other artists work. Pietro Annigoni’s way of working reminded me of artists like Walter Sickert, JMW Turner, James Abbot MacNeil Whistler and John Constable. They travelled out of the studio to inform their vision and used the studio to resolve technical issues that had arisen. Reading more about these artists has helped me understand how I work also. I started to read about S.J Peploe’s way of working and find similarities with my own practice and lifestyle such as the ‘stimulation he got from a long walk’. Overall, I feel I have a wider appreciation for all kinds of art. This occurred to me recently when at the Kelvingrove museum visiting Colourist paintings I had perhaps overlooked before. I now find myself in awe of their synthetic simplification of form and bold handling of colour that appears so refreshingly modern.
To conclude, I was very moved by some exhibitions I attended in Florence and have returned with another burst of belief in drawing, painting and printmaking. Ultimately this experience reminded me that I need to give myself the time and space to grow at reasonable pace. I realise that painting, like any craft, requires a balance of patience and persistence that is practiced consistently over a lifelong period. More than ever, I want to enjoy this learning process and treat every day as an opportunity for growth.