• Artist’s Overview

    This exhibition, hosted by Calgary Art Gallery, Mull, showcases fourteen paintings looking shoreward from the sea. I hope as you explore these works, you will find yourself as I have been, immersed in the timeless dialogue between the sea, therocky island edge and the veils which drape these views. 

  • Rock

    The writer John Keats, in letters to his brother Tom in 1818, encapsulates the enduring allure of Scotland's west coast landscape:

    The western coast of Scotland is a most strange place - it is compos'd of rocks Mountains, mountainous and rocky Islands intersected by Lochs - you can go but a small distance any where from salt water in the highlands. [iii]

    Mull embodies this essence of the west coast. Its convoluted profile seems to encapsulate the full spectrum of how land meets the sea. This is not a gentle shoreline; while there are notable beaches at Calgary and off Fionnphort, they are small oases amidst a landscape of exposed ruggedness - Keats’ rock unveiled in all its eroded forms. From sheer cliff edges of split, shattered geology to smoothed and moulded pebbles in tumbled edges at the foot of rolling slopes, Mull's coast bears the marks of millennia of the sea's powerful actions.

    These eroded rocks, worn, broken, and split away over time, have revealed new silhouettes, shapes, and surfaces. The process of creating these paintings mirrors this emergence. Layers of paint are left to dry at various stages, then with sprays, heat, pressure, and mediums, the process of erosion begins. Material is gathered, redistributed, and nothing is wasted in this artistic echo of nature's own transformations.

  • Sea

    I operate from two studios, one in Tobermory, Mull, Scotland, and the other in Kells, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland. This seemingly disparate geographical arrangement holds a surprising historical connection. Between the years 495 CE and 850 CE, these regions formed part of the kingdom known as 'Dalriada', a realm linked by the sea in terms of movement, trade, and political ties. Archaeologist Dr. Ewan Campbell, in his essay Were the Scots Irish? delves into this historical era, describing Argyll and Antrim as a 'maritime province'. [i] This sentiment is echoed by Robert Crawford, who writes of Iona as the heart of a navigable archipelago extending from Ireland to Mull:

    For Columba, sailing from Ireland to Iona in the year 563AD, and for his medieval successors the island was at the heart of a navigable archipelago extending as far as Ireland to the west, Mull to the east, and with the rest of the Hebrides on all sides. [ii]

    Before the advent of proper roads and air travel, the sea was the primary transport network, a fact I came to appreciate through yearly sailing expeditions with my family from Northern Ireland. Seen from the sea, the west coast landfall and scenery beyond provides a unique perspective. As a deckhand on Jim Burnside’s many boats, we explored that archipelago for many years, with Mull, and particularly Tobermory, as our end goal. 

    An intriguing aspect of Mull is that, even in modern times, its approach remains almost exclusively maritime. There are no bridges, no tunnels; only a modest airstrip serves as a connection. Mull therefore slowly unveils its rugged character as one draws near, with the shoreline coming into focus - each crag and cliff, every undulating plane, emerges from the mist as the land rises towards distant heights. Inspired by this intimate perspective, this collection of paintings circumnavigates the Isle of Mull, looking back to its shoreline from the sea.

  • Veils

    However, to reduce the perspective of Mull from the sea to merely an observation of rocks, albeit some colossal ones, would be overly simplistic. There is a deeper interplay at work.

    In Guy Peploe's book about his grandfather, the artist S J Peploe, he quotes his grandfather discussing the essence of scenes like these:

    We had miserable weather in Iona this year - worst in living memory - gales and rain the whole time. I got very little done. But that kind of weather suits Iona: the rocks and distant shores seen through falling rain, veil behind veil, take on an elusive quality, and when the light shines through one has visions of rare beauty. I think I prefer it these days to your blue skies and clear distances. [iv]

    Winter rain, autumn mist, summer haze, and spring growth—all of these elements create veils, as do the patina of lichen covering rocks, the grasses and heathers sprouting from them, and the birch and larger plantations that blanket the hillsides. These, too, are veils.

    As an artist, I incorporate the idea of these overlay veils into my work on the scratched and pitted surfaces on the canvas. With soft sponges, kitchen roll, and palette knives, I apply or release washes of colours, imprint soft textural impressions, and layer wet absorptive layers to mask and frame, deepen and lighten, age and yet freshen the surface. The process is an abstract echo of nature’s weathering on the canvas.

    The culmination of this exploration is the exhibition SHOREWARD Mull at Calgary Art Gallery, presenting fourteen paintings that offer a distinctive view of Mull from the sea.

    David Page

  • [i] Were the Scots Irish? - Ewan Campbell - Antiquity No 75 (2001), pp 285-292.

    [ii] The Book of Iona - An Anthology edited by Robert Crawford, Introduction px.
    [iii] The Book of Iona - An Anthology edited by Robert Crawford, p275.
    [iv] S J Peploe 1871-1935 - Guy Peploe (2000), p73.