North Rona
By Alan Watson

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Year
1992
Media
Acrylic and Gouache
Subject Matter
Landscape
Reg. Number
P513
Size
165 x 165 cm

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This abstract landscape depicts a solitary man and an incomplete building enclosed by circles of lazybeds, a common feature of many West Coast Scottish landscapes. There is something almost otherworldly about this scene with its strange shapes and colours, and the unusual shape of the building that the man inhabits. There is no real sense of perspective which can be disorientating.

The acrylic paint that Watson has used in this work affects his choice of colour. He has used a vivid palette of neon coral, green and yellow alongside dark blue to create shadow. Watson has applied each colour directly onto the canvas, blending them into each other before the acrylic paint can dry. The colour is dabbed onto the canvas with short brushstrokes: the colour and painting style act to unify the piece and to highlight the man’s relationship with the natural world.

Watson lived on Shetland as a young boy and his work is inspired by his memories of island life. He has a strong interest in the history of places and the myths and legends surrounding them. North Rona lies twenty-five miles north of of Lewis, and is often absent from most maps. As far as it is known this island was continuously inhabited until the 1830s when it was finally abandoned altogether. Watson’s family moved around a lot when he was growing up which he states gave him broad experience of living and adapting to new people and social situations. However, he claims that the downside to this is feeling that he has no definite roots. It is this exploration into the sense of a place and the idea of having roots somewhere that he is trying to grasp in this work. The solitary figure in this painting clearly belongs to this environment. Watson states that ‘I have tried to convey what it must have felt like to be the last person living on the island...I see it as a picture with a lot of hope in it.’ However, he makes it clear that he wishes the viewer to make his own mind up about this. The centre of the work is detached from the rest of the landscape which enhances the isolation of the man but there is a small opening through which he can leave his solitary confines. The roughly-sketched man is holding a tool, suggesting that he is a farmer at work on his own land. He lives a simple life, and the sense of solitude appears to relate to his relationship with the rest of the world.

Alan Watson is a Scottish artist who was born in St Andrews in 1957. He comes from a long line of fishing families from the East Neuk of Fife. His fishing heritage is important to him, and sea themes are a recurrent feature in his work. He studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee fro 1976-80 and completed his Post Diploma year in 1981. In the same year he won two travelling scholarships and in 1983 he won the Scottish Arts Council Young Artist’s Bursary Award to support his research into St Kilda’s bird culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the UK, Russia, China, USA and Europe and is included in many public and private collections in the UK and private collections in Europe, Russia and Asia.

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