Fleet, Westland and Jason Hicklin

12 Jul 2011 in Highland, Showcase, Visual Arts & Crafts

An Talla Solais, Ullapool, until 31 July 2011

TALL Ships are due to arrive in Ullapool next weekend (from 15 July 2011) on their way to Shetland, but the celebrations have already begun at An Talla Solais, with a flotilla of small ships, created by members of the community and friends of the art centre.

The small ships are pictures of yachts and dinghies, pirates and fishermen, in every setting from harbours to the open ocean. Each of the 150 images has been painted, drawn, carved, modelled, collaged or otherwise conjured onto a diminutive tile of marine plywood. Collectively they form a colourful and joyous display called Fleet.

Ceramic tiles from Fleet

Ceramic tiles from Fleet

Quite apart from their artistic merits, which are considerable, the small ships are raising funds for the centre, which receives no public funding. There was a silent auction at the weekend, and any left unsold will be on sale until the end of July. What better souvenir could there be of the ‘nautical fever’ gripping the west coast?

Alongside Fleet are two other art exhibitions with a marine flavour: moody seascape etchings by Jason Hicklin, and a unique collection of work by Joanne B Kaar and Lynn Taylor, called Westland.

Joanne B Kaar is a Scottish paper artist and Lynn Taylor is a New Zealand printmaker and visual artist. Together they have created an extraordinary interpretation of the journey of The Westland, which set off from Tail o’ the Bank in Caithness in 1879, taking emigrants on an 84 day voyage to Port Chalmers in New Zealand. The work arose when Joanne spent time as artist in residence at Mary-Ann’s Cottage (Dunnet, Caithness), home of William Young, one of the emigrants. The blog of her residency (see below) is an enthralling cornucopia of art and history.

At the heart of the exhibition are a set of log books. Most of Joanne B Kaar’s work consists of hand-made paper, and she used this to recreate the original log of the journey. Both she and Lynn kept a log for 84 days in 2009, as a parallel to the original sailing, recording the shipping forecast, the passage of boats in Caithness and responses to the diary of one of the emigrants, Jonathan Moscrop, who recorded everything from sickness to rats to peculiar events onboard the ship.



Beyond the log books, Joanne has created a seemingly endless flow of reconstructions and imaginings to do with the journey and the sailors, most of them made of paper. But these are unusual paper objects. There is a hooded raincoat, made waterproof with a Japanese brown stain, called Kakashiki, and a ‘ditty bag’, which was the traditional bag made by apprentice sail-makers, involving every stitch they would need to use.

Books are made with peat incorporated into the paper, others with remnants of Scalpay linen. Inside frames are abstract collages made of paper, stitching, driftwood and ink drawings, some called ‘boats and ropes’, dense with wordless thoughts about how the makers of boats went about their work. Bringing the textures of old boats to life, these are celebrations by a modern day craft maker of the detailed handiwork of the makers of the past. And there is string – marvellous string!

The exhibition contains less of Lynn’s work than Joanne’s, but it has a similar flavour of painstaking technique coupled with a mindset that deeply inhabits the past. Seemingly simple pieces, like a tea cup and two doilies encrusted with salt, bring vividly to the senses the experience of the Westland’s passengers spending weeks on end in a salt-water environment.

I particularly enjoyed the layer upon layer of history and response in Joanne and Lynn’s work. A story from the ship unravels through a string horse and five bottles of whisky. Three aprons (one to protect a dress, the next to protect the first apron, and a third, made out of sacking, to protect the other two) emerge from Lynn’s log book and are given physical form by Joanne. Seeing such an integrated body of work it is incredible to discover that the two artists have never actually met.

Etching by Jason Hicklin

Etching by Jason Hicklin

The third exhibition, a series of etchings and oil paintings of coastal waters and islands in Ireland and the Hebrides, is the first that you encounter on walking into the gallery. With its brooding, haunting atmosphere, Jason Hicklin’s work balances the vivacity of Westland and the colourful diversity of Fleet. Almost monochrome, these pictures all depict land blurring into water. Jason Hicklin evokes tumultuous seas and waves crashing on cliffs and captures perfectly the way clouds merge into sea, watery sun reflects in weedy shallows and evening light calls from the western horizon. These are pictures to gaze into, reflecting how the worst of weather can still be beautiful.

Whatever the weather for the rest of July, this is one boat that should definitely not be missed.

© Mandy Haggith, 2011