Reach and Impressions

28 May 2012 in Highland, Visual Arts & Crafts

An Talla Solais, Ullapool, until 17 June 2012.

IT IS hard to imagine two more different forms of art being exhibited together than the two shows currently on display at An Talla Solais.

TWO rooms are filled with Sutherland landscape pictures, by husband and wife Hazel and Cyril Reed, while the smaller room is converted into a kind of secret chamber containing a multi-media installation by Gill Russell. One is entirely figurative, the other conceptual. One devoted to the outdoor world, the other concerned with our internal lives.



Gill Russell’s work is an experience to have alone, if possible. It is contained within a deeply darkened room, entered through blankets as if into a sweat lodge or sacred tent. Within, shamanic symbols (feathers, antlers) hang in an eerie blue light.

A sound track of voices ranges around themes of belief, faith in a creator, insistence that science can explain everything, religious doctrine and cosmology, a panoply of views declaimed, murmured, ranted and whispered into a tapestry of sound. The voiced opinions are from the Pope to Richard Dawkins, everywhere on the spectrum in between these two, and beyond, into the ridiculous, with even Monty Python making it into the mix. It is impossible to follow every word, but it seems to invite us to question our own beliefs. Which of these voices do I agree with? Who, if anyone, is talking sense here?

There are two edifices in the room, both containing ghostly white hands, lit with the same blue light. A single hand grasps, for what? Meaning? A pair of hands is held up in the position of prayer. Spend too long reflecting on these disembodied limbs and they soon become spooky.

But in the corner, there’s a third object, like a womb inside the womb-room, a fruit containing a suspended seed. Its mouth is furry, and its textured interior seems to capture and concentrate light. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I like it. One of the voices on the track mentions, ‘the long wait between seed and fruit’.

There is space in here for responses to life’s big questions in other forms than science or religion. References to a creator bring the artist into the room, as if she is also in here groping around in the dark for answers.

Back out in the light, we return to the Highlands. In the real world it is glorious May weather, but on the gallery walls all the seasons are present. In Cyril Reed’s room winter features a lot and it is something of a shock to be reminded of snow. The painting I find most striking contrasts its bright white with the orange and brown of vegetation by the shore of Loch Fleet. The wind is visibly tousling the dead grasses in a cold, bright light.

There’s motion also in the billowing cloud of smoke from a wild fire in ‘Hill Burn’ above a huddle of houses. The habitations in these landscapes are at first inconspicuous, as if the human element is a minor part of a land where greater forces of nature dominate. Storm clouds, a sky filled with snow, a shaft of light onto water, colours reflected in snow, shadows among trees, autumn winds, are all in the foreground of the paintings: moments of drama caught in very particular places.

Next door, Hazel Reed paints in cloth. Her textile landscape images are of many of the same places as her husband’s, and in some ways have a more literal accuracy of representation of the landscapes when viewed at a distance. But unlike his paintings, which reveal the painterly marks of acrylic on brush, Hazel’s work, close up, has a wealth of texture and crafty detail that give them a fascinating quality of sculpted objects.

Each piece consists of dozens of different coloured pieces of fabric: silks, netting, ribbons and felt, intricately layered and placed to build up the picture. Paint is used too, and on top of this, freehand machine-embroidery stitching with a mixture of threads, adding another surface of texture to the image.

The choices of views that Hazel creates are intriguing, with lots of unusual perspectives – a shoreline looked down on from a height, and several tall thin images, just giving us a slice of a grander vista. The colour combinations are often beautiful, my favourite being an exquisite mix of dark blues and gold, in ‘Sunlit Shore’. Also marvellous is an image of a stormy coast, with layers of rock, grass, beach and 7 wheeling sea birds in a brooding sky. The intricate textures also work well in representing agriculture, with sharp angles of arable fields and fences picked out in stitching.

The sourcing of fabrics and threads for each picture is, Hazel says, by far the most time-consuming aspect of the work. Anyone with the slightest delight in haberdashery will revel in the skill on display here.

Both Hazel and Cyril are doing events associated with their exhibition, with Cyril doing a painting demonstration and Hazel running a workshop on her textile techniques.

© Mandy Haggith, 2012