In this abstracted portrayal of a female figure surrounded by fish, the woman is wearing are a patchwork of bright colours and patterns, including with reds, greens and yellow. Her limbs are large and rounded, in proportion with each other. Her hair is black and is escaping from a headscarf which resembles a large red grouse. Her face has interesting colouring, created by bold splashes of purple, turquoise and yellow. She is sitting on a background composed of a patchwork of shapes and colours in browns and reds, as well as the shape of a pavement in the upper-left corner. She appears to be holding a gutted fish-- presumably the herring of the title-- upon a plate. The shapes surrounding her are also reminiscent of sea-life: for example, the red shape that forms her forearm appears to have a fish's fin running along it.
Fyfe worked on the shipyards of Aberdeen after leaving school, and the sight of women working in the fish yards would have been a common sight. "Quine" is a Doric Scots word used particularly around the Aberdeen area to refer to a young woman. The east of Scotland has been a centre for the fishing industry for hundreds of years: In the early twentieth century, these "herring quines" played a vital role in the processing the fish, working in outside curing yards as gutters and packers.
On this piece, Fyfe says the following:
“Most of my paintings have been inspired from past memories of my childhood. I was brought up in a mainly female environment, as most of the older men were lost at war. Many of my aunts and their friends were story tellers and enjoyed reminiscing about very poor times. My few holidays were amongst scores of widows playing whist in old huts from the surrounding areas of Aberdeen. Laughing acting and singing keeping each other amused and cared for. My only uncle was a trawler man and he would take me fishing where again buxom colourful fish women would cuddle and tell me suggestive and funny stories. This life made me aware of the importance of communities and how the female was iconic and essential to keeping all grounded and united. There was no issues regarding body mass and cosmetic vanity. Each one wore and behaved in their own unique ways. I loved the floral garish costumes and bad hair days they proudly wore.
"The Herring Quine was painted with the intent of showing such an iconic fish woman, holding and filling the canvas with strength and compassion. A loving colourful soul who held many happy thoughts as she worked with little effort, keeping the viewer focussed on her innocence and motherly presence. Her thoughts swirling around her. The freedom of a bird, the boat on which her man last sailed, the fish she cared for to keep the young fed, the sand where it met the water, and the stone wall which builds and contains family's.
"However for me it was only about my love and adoration for colour, scale and memories of one Herring Quine who made my childhood worthy and loving.”
Graham Fyfe left school at the age of sixteen to work on the shipyards in Aberdeen before enrolling as a mature student at Gray's School of Art to fulfil his lifelong-ambition: he graduated with first-class honours in 1997 and completed a Masters degree the following year. Since 1998 he has worked part-time at Gray's School as a tutor, and his work has been popular in exhibitions across northern Scotland.
With thanks to Tolquhon Studio for information about this artist.