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