Anna King and Janette Kerr’s Land and Sea at Open Eye Gallery Edinburgh

Anna King, 'Sycamore, Queenscairn Hill', oil and pencil on paper and board
Anna King, 'Sycamore, Queenscairn Hill', oil and pencil on paper and board

Janette Kerr: Showcase, Anna King: Reclamation 

Tue - Fri 11:00 - 17:00, Sat 11:00 - 16:00

From: 1 Sep 2023

To: 23 Sep 2023

Open Eye Gallery
34 Abercromby Place
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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An artist must possess nature, identify with her rhythm.’ – Henri Matisse

For the last 12 years, Janette Kerr has had a house and studio close to the sea on the west coast of Shetland, and frequently travels to experience other ‘weather-scoured places’ – Norway, Arctic, Iceland, Greenland. Her artwork is constantly inspired by, ‘the breaking waves, the merging of spray with air, advancing rain and mist, glancing sunlight – elements that seem to be about something intangible.’ 

Kerr immerses the viewer in these wild seascapes, the sight and sound of crashing waves and billowing clouds sweeping across the sky. The enchanting title Brimfooster means seafoam and this white frothing surf is portrayed in this exquisitely atmospheric painting of a surging sea below a shimmering shower of torrential rain, with a flourish of brushstrokes in muted hues of grey, aqua blue and splashes of white.

Janette Kerr, 'Brimfooster', oil on canvas
Janette Kerr, ‘Brimfooster’, oil on canvas

An island proverb is Aa da mainland pays fur dat (when Foula Isle wears his hat) – when clouds settle across the peaks of Foula, this usually signifies rainy weather. With dramatic expressionism, Uphaald – rain clearing over Foula captures threatening thunder clouds in a swirl of black paint in contrast to the lost, low-lying island below; twenty miles offshore from Shetland, Foula is said to be ‘on the edge of the world.’  Such a flowing sense of movement here, the choppy waves and flurry of wispy clouds against a hopeful patch of pale blue sky. 

Janette Kerr, 'Upphald- Rain clearing over Foula', oil on gesso board
Janette Kerr, ‘Upphald- Rain clearing over Foula’, oil on gesso board

J M W Turner was equally fascinated by the sea, often painting a maelstrom of rain, wind and waves, which, as Ruskin described, ‘stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of Nature.’  This is echoed here in Kerr’s dramatic composition, Seafog an’ flying debris, the thick impasto splatter of paint illustrating treacherous whirlpool waves which merge and melt into the swirling mist. The flecks of coral–orange ‘debris’ could perhaps be soaring seaweed swept off the beach by the tide.  

Janette Kerr, 'Sea fog an' flying debris', oil on gesso board
Janette Kerr, ‘Sea fog an’ flying debris’, oil on gesso board

Shetlandic – Shaetlan, a blend of Scots and old Norn – features such vividly expressive words as ‘drush‘ (drizzle) and ‘wadderheads‘ (cloud forms): likewise, Janette Kerr evokes this lyrical language to reflect the rolling rhythm and relentless power of the ocean in these painterly epic poems. 

It is the language of nature which one should listen to.’ – Van Gogh

Born in Shetland, Anna King was just a 23 year-old arts graduate when she won the inaugural Jolomo Lloyds TSB Landscape Award in 2007. She now lives in the Scottish Borders and this exhibition, Reclamation, explores the alternative aspect of rural life, derelict barns and roofless greenhouses – blots on the landscape amidst the natural environment: ‘I’ve always been interested in the marks we make on the land, places where man and nature meet… the way we interact with the landscape around us is becoming more and more pertinent.’

With a creative technique, she has developed an experimental blend of a pencil drawing and oil painting with the impression of a watercolour. A chilly day is captured in Sycamore, Queenscairn Hill, the naked winter trees against a snowy whiteout over the hills beyond, and soft glimmer of sunlight casting long shadows over the field. King draws in pencil over the wet oil paint on the paper, giving the effect of a quick gestural sketch. This is, however, deceptive – understated simplicity for such a well-observed composition, with sweeping snow and cloud, bare branches bent over in an icy wind to depict a subtle sense of movement. 

Anna King, 'Sycamore, Queenscairn Hill', oil and pencil on paper and board
Anna King, ‘Sycamore, Queenscairn Hill’, oil and pencil on paper and board

Art is a harmony, parallel with nature’ – Paul Cezanne

Observing the clear purity of light, this is about the art of stillness and solitude in the wide open spaces of the countryside. The rusty corrugated iron in Abandoned sheep fold, Harecleugh Forest illustrates a dilapidated old barn and border fence with a poignant sense of lost farming heritage. What is most impressive is the criss-cross patterning of the thick woodland behind, echoed by the long uncut blades of grass – while the sheep have long gone, the lush green wilderness continues to flourish. 

Anna King, 'Abandoned Sheep Fold, Harecleugh Forest', oil and pencil on paper and board
Anna King, ‘Abandoned Sheep Fold, Harecleugh Forest’, oil and pencil on paper and board

These serene paintings depict with realistic vision the fragile beauty of our rural landscape through the gradual change through time and place. Although the destruction of trees does seem to go against nature, clear felling for logging is part of sustainable forestry management. In Edge of Clearfell, Duns Wood, there’s a glimmer of a crisp golden day as Autumn turns to Winter – a line of spindly tree trunks standing tall, except for one which has been felled, falling sideways against its neighbour. 

Anna King, 'Edge of Clearfell, Duns Wood', oil and pencil on paper and board
Anna King, ‘Edge of Clearfell, Duns Wood’, oil and pencil on paper and board

In musical terms, both artists create a melancholic mood in their paintings, but in contrasting manner: Janette Kerr paints the crashing chords of Britten’s Storm Interlude in her expressive, filmic seascapes; with a quieter tone, Anna King plays the pastoral melody on solo violin of The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams in her lyrical scenic views of the Scottish Borders. 

The September exhibition also features paintings by Rachel Ross, ‘Recollection’. See Open Eye’s website for for full information and images of all artwork. 

With grateful thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.

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