John Kinross Scholar in 1987
Joan Smith, Field Notes, 2018, oil on paper, 20 x 15 cm
How did the experience affect you as an individual?
When I travelled to Florence this was the first time I had gone abroad on my own and it was a daunting experience. A small group of us at Edinburgh College of Art had been lucky enough to be awarded John Kinross Scholarships but I was the only one who had decided to stay for my graduation ceremony before going to Florence. The others left a month before me and, in this pre-internet world, I lost contact with them. I left Edinburgh with only a vague promise of a bed for the night on a friend’s sofa in Florence and had planned little else apart from signing up for an Italian language course at the Dante Alighieri Language School (as recommended by the RSA). Thankfully the School was able to help me find a place in a flat which I shared with two Italian girls. My Italian was terrible and the girls didn’t speak English so we conversed in pigeon French. Looking back I shudder to think of how naive I was, or perhaps how optimistic. I lived in Florence for around three months and also travelled a little, to Rome, Sienna and around Tuscany. I found being on my own for much of the time to be quite hard but it definitely made me much more independent and organised than I had been before. I realised I was quite capable and able to face tricky situations on my own. Since then I have travelled abroad alone many times. I’m always nervous before I go but I know that I can be confident of my capabilities.
What was the impact on your practice?
I found Florence to be stunningly beautiful and inspirational. I drew and painted every day and spent a great deal of time walking around and visiting churches, museums and galleries and this experience greatly influence my painting practice. I was particularly inspired by the frescoes and architecture which had been damaged by Florence’s many floods. Their faded colours and broken images encouraged me to layer and then sand back my painted surfaces to create a sense of time embedded in the paint itself. I used architectural subject matter a lot at that time: this was what drove me to apply for the Scholarship in the first place and my interest in the history of architecture remains to this day. Over the years this interest in history has been manifested through images based on archaeological sources (for example a series of paintings about the site of the medieval hospital at Soutra as well as drawings referencing Neolithic pots in the St Andrews Museum) and archival material (such as my work in ‘Field Notes’, an exhibition which explored the work of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in World War 1 and was inspired by a photographic archive at Surgeons Hall Museum in Edinburgh). My main practice is still painting, though I also make objects and use printmaking and photography within my work. But I think my aesthetic always harks back to those damaged frescoes.
What would you say the long term impact has been on yourself and you work?
Winning the Scholarship gave my confidence a massive boost. As a Fine Art student I always felt a little ‘odd’ in my year group. In History of Art seminars I felt I was never quite as knowledgeable as the full time History of Art students. In the Art College some full time painters viewed Fine Art students with suspicion because we were ‘part timers’. The John Kinross scholarship felt like a stamp of approval. It also helped me to make sense of the Fine Art degree because it gave me a way to connect my studies in History of Art with my painting practice. I came back from Florence to become a post graduate student with David Michie as my Head of Drawing and Painting. He was very supportive of me and I became one of the few Fine Art students to be asked to teach, first in evening classes and later in undergraduate drawing and painting. I am convinced that the John Kinross scholarship had an important role to play in his decision to offer me this opportunity. I have been lucky enough to have had a long career in the arts, making and exhibiting artworks and teaching. I was acting Head of Art at ECA in 2018; in the same year I was part of an international research project, ‘TRACES’ and also exhibited ‘Field Notes’. I am currently involved in an interdisciplinary research project exploring ethical issues relating to ownership and display of human remains. I owe a lot of my personal development and confidence to the experience of that first trip to Italy.