The Herald - The Herald Magazine
Leading the way
An island trail follows in the footsteps of trailblazing artists
IT was some three years ago that the Arran Theatre and Arts Trust came up with the idea for an Arran Arts Heritage Trail, a guide to the locations around this lovely, dramatic, hugely varied island to which artists have been drawn for 200 years. If the Arran Art Trail already existed, not least through a leaflet handed out on the ferry to promote the artists and craftspeople around the island with open studios, the Arts Heritage Trail would mark their forebears, the long link with art that “began” – notwithstanding the rich cultural heritage of the Gaelic island communities themselves – with the early photographers of the 19th century, trying out their newfangled art on Arran’s impressive and thoroughly Romantic peaks, and continued into the 20th century with Joan Eardley, whose centenary, celebrated this year in galleries around Scotland, is informally “launched” with the opening of the trail.
Along the way, many other artists were drawn to the island, marked on the trail – both on www. arranartsheritagetrail.com and on the ground – which will be launched on April 29 with what looks to be a fascinating online symposium, Arran – An Artistic Legacy chaired by Kirsty Wark. On land, solid placemarkers will map the trail, carved in reclaimed red Arran sandstone, the lettering on each slab designed both to pay tribute to ancient Arran waymarkers and echo the work of the concrete poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, who was “a big presence in Corrie,” as Ruth Impey, project manager of the Arts Heritage Trail, puts it. The locations were chosen in collaboration with islanders.
It’s a hugely varied roster of artists, as diverse as the landscapes of the island itself. There is John Muir Wood, an early pioneer of photography in Scotland who made hundreds of images of Arran’s mountainous landscape. There is Alasdair Gray, who spent holidays at Pirnmill as a child and wrote the first story of his debut collection on the island. His marker is placed on the tourist trail up Goatfell, from where he painted his view, Bay.
There is the eminent Victorian landscape painter Horatio McCulloch, whose aim was “to paint the silence of the Highland wilderness where the wild deer roam” – he obviously hadn’t been there during the rut – a putative silence which, of course, was occasioned by the Clearances.
There was his contemporary, the Englishman George Edwards Hering, who likewise based himself on Arran during the summers, painting such Romantically titled works as Druidical Monuments at Dawn on the Isle of Arran (1871), referring to the famous Neolithic standing stones at Machrie Moor.
William McTaggart’s June Day, Arran (1860s), showed young children clambering over an ancient stone, again at Machrie. The 20th century brought the Corrie Summer School, the brainchild of Jessie M King and her husband EA Taylor, artists based in Paris who, from the summer of 1911 to 1939, attracted wider European artists and locals, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, to stay with islanders all over Arran for their hugely successful art summer school in High Corrie. The Colourist Samuel Peploe, a friend of King, also painted here.
But of all the painters, it is Eardley who is the best known modern artist associated with Arran. The pioneering mid-20th painter spent the summers of her formative student years in Corrie, where she painted the shore in all weathers. If artists previously had frequently been inspired by the dramatically changeable weather on Arran, Eardley painted in it, the weather frequently marking her paintings, as was to be seen to mature effect in her later works at Catterline in Aberdeenshire.
“The picture I painted yesterday was of a fir tree in the castle wood from the shore part of the Brodick road,” she wrote from Corrie in 1949 to her friend and fellow painter Margot Sandeman, with whom she often shared a but and ben named the Tabernacle in the village.
“I tried hard to finish it – but I haven’t, quite. About 11 o’clock, deluges of rain came on and I felt absolutely fed-up, and then I suddenly thought that I wasn’t going to be beaten by the blasted rain again. So I erected a little tent over my canvas with my mac and your bike and some pieces of rope… it must have looked pretty funny to the people from the road… today it is raining, too, only this time there is a hurricane as well, and I don’t think the little tent would stay up.”
Pretty funny it perhaps was, or at least unusual, in the minds of some of the
locals, including one five-year-old who still remembers seeing Eardley “painting by the old port in Corrie, wearing oversized dungarees. She had her canvas and paints with her.” He offered her his pocket money “because he thought she must be destitute!” says Impey, who says they’re hoping to collect many more local stories for the trail. A publication, with details of all the artists and locations, is nearing approval for the launch, although the database of artists is ever-expanding, testament to the inspirational lure of “Scotland in miniature”.
“I think we’ve just scratched the surface,” says Impey. “Every time we put a full stop on the database, we find another artist influenced by Arran. It’s an ongoing job.”