Pas­tels at dawn

A new ex­hi­bi­tion shows the morn­ing sky as a true work of art, says Jan Pa­tience

The Herald - Arts - - Arts -

The dawn­ing of a new day is full of prom­ise, but how many of us ac­tu­ally wit­ness it in all its glory – or its or­di­nar­i­ness, for that mat­ter? For the last year, that first glim­mer of light be­tween the hours of 4.20am and 8.46am has slipped into the heart of Bute­based artist Alison Gollings Clark.

For just over a year, from Fe­bru­ary 1 2007, she rose at first light to cap­ture the view from her el­e­vated liv­ing room win­dow over­look­ing Rothe­say Bay and be­yond to her child­hood home of Skel­mor­lie, be­com­ing “ob­sessed” by the sheer range of light and weather pat­terns cross­ing her path.

The re­sult is an ex­tra­or­di­nary body of work, now on show at the Cas­tle Gallery in Bute. The 365 (one for ev­ery day, plus one to ac­count for the leap year) mainly pas­tel works are hung in se­quence, al­most mir­ror­ing a cal­en­dar lay­out.

The ex­per­i­ment be­gan as an at­tempt to cap­ture what Clark’s hus­band Ed was miss­ing dur­ing lengthy pe­ri­ods at sea as a mer­chant marine of­fi­cer. The cou­ple moved to the is­land fol­low­ing her grad­u­a­tion in sil­ver­smithing and jew­ellery de­sign from Glas­gow School of Art in 2001.

A for­mer ac­tress and publi­can, Clark had at­tended art school as a ma­ture stu­dent, grad­u­at­ing at the age of 48. She was re­cently com­mis­sioned to de­sign a brooch for the Duchess of Rothe­say, and al­though she still has a jew­ellery work­shop, her heart, she con­cedes, is in draw­ing and paint­ing.

“Ed re­ally misses the is­land and the view,” she says, by way of be­gin­ning to ex­plain the 365+1 project, “and I of­ten used to say to him when he was at sea, ‘You should have seen the dawn this morn­ing.’ Then one morn­ing, I looked out of the win­dow and was aware that hun­dreds of tons of wa­ter seemed to be sus­pended above my head like a wa­tery Sword of Damo­cles. I grabbed a few sticks of pas­tels and a pad of pa­per and be­gan to record it for Ed.

“That was Fe­bru­ary 1, when the dawn was com­ing up at 8.15am. The next morn­ing, hun­dreds of birds filled the air as I drew – surely a good omen. Af­ter that, ba­si­cally I couldn’t stop. I didn’t in­tend to keep go­ing, but by the time he came home in the April, I had around 50 paint­ings all around the house.

“‘What’s this?” he asked when he stepped into the house. “Th­ese are all the dawns you have missed,” I told him. I then de­cided to put the whole year on record. Ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent and the light can change in five min­utes. There are some very pretty days but the dark days are so much bet­ter.

“I’ve re­ally got into clouds … Ed is a nav­i­ga­tor and he can tell me all the names of the clouds. I’m think­ing of join­ing the Cloud Ap­pre­ci­a­tion So­ci­ety. Their web­site is just a joy – it’s a dull day that doesn’t have any clouds.

“I swear the cloud on Christ­mas Day looked just like a man with a sack of toys about to slip down a chim­ney.”

Af­ter a year of record­ing the dawn­ing of the day, ris­ing ever ear­lier as the year dives to­wards a Scot­tish sum­mer, one might think Clark would have had enough of dawns. Not so. “I’m still tak­ing a pho­to­graphic record,” she says. “The dawn has seeped into my soul.”

The same sky on four dif­fer­ent days – clock­wise from top left, Fe­bru­ary 1, April 27, Septem­ber 27 and De­cem­ber 25

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