Scotland, my homeland and the country which I love to paint. There, inspiration greets me at every turn. Highlands, islands, lowlands – every corner of ‘Caledonia’ provides subject matter for my canvases – but I am drawn, time and time again, to the Outer Hebrides. This bejewelled string of islands stretches 130 miles from the Butt of Lewis, south to the uninhabited wildlife haven of Mingulay. Lewis and Harris (of the eponymous tweed!), Benbecula, the Uists, Eriskay (where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed to lead the ill- fated Jacobite Rebellion) and Barra with its causeway to Vatersay.
An archipelago which forms the last point of civilization between the Scottish mainland and the Americas. Betimes cosseted by the Gulf Stream or relentlessly battered by Atlantic gales, these islands of contrast boast some of the world’s most beautiful beaches – sands of myriad shades and crystalline waters in vivid green and turquoise hues.
This year I was honoured to be asked to stage an exhibition of my paintings on the island of Barra. In June 2023 the island’s Heritage Centre hosted the Centenary Homecoming to mark 100 years since many families on Barra and neighbouring Vatersay left their homes for the promise of a better life in Canada. Post-war, the islands’ herring industry had all but disappeared, work was impossible to find and poverty was rife. Tempted by the lure of rich farmland or well-paid jobs on the Canadian Pacific Railroad, entire households shipped away to the Prairies. Whilst some forged successful new lives others found nothing but disappointment and continuing hardship.
The descendants of these brave emigrants made their pilgrimage to the Homecoming to learn of the life and times of their forebears and where possible to visit the ruins of their ancestors’ humble dwellings. For many, the trip was their first visit to Scotland. For some, it was the very first time they had journeyed from their homes in Canada. For everyone that I met it was an emotional connection with their pasts. Stories tumbled out, family histories were shared – and more than a few tears were shed. The Heritage Centre in Barra’s Castlebay holds a wealth of information about these exiled islanders and an excellent collection of photographs and memorabilia – well worth a visit!
A little part of Scotland in every painting
As I travel, in search of inspiration for my art, I try to collect a tiny pinch of sand and some drops of water from the scene I hope to capture. These elements are incorporated in each canvas, to put a little part of Scotland in every painting. My notebook will record a few paragraphs which, when I return to my studio in France, will bring images back to me in even sharper focus than my camera. Sometimes I will develop these notes into a piece of descriptive prose which accompanies the painting and hopefully enhances the pleasure of ownership for the buyer:
‘Perhaps a little bay, framed by a tumble of rocks dumped by time’s glacial bulldozer – grey, black, brown and shot through with specks of glittering quartz. Or a sweeping ‘Traigh’ – a perfect crescent of pristine sand. There, a scatter of white painted houses gazing towards the sea which, in its giving and taking down the millennia, has shaped these islands and their peoples.
Maybe today, nature’s scene shifters will challenge my canvas by changing the vista a dozen times or more. Once a blue and listless sky, then suddenly a scurry of wispy clouds will enter from stage left in a merry dance. Lowering storm heads might roll in, with only a follow- spot of sunlight to illuminate a squadron of oystercatchers – wings flittering urgently as they head for shelter.
Then, when evening comes, the sun – its day’s work done – will sweep majestically from the scene, scattering tints of rose and peach, purple and orange and a cadmium red so vivid that the horizon seems to smoulder.
Darkness falls, a contented stillness settles and the rippling applause of waves on shore closes another world class performance’.
So, here in France, as winter approaches, the log fire will be lit and my memory will be aglow with recollections of this year’s travels – island visits, exhibitions staged, acquaintances made and old friends revisited. This artist, inspired by Scotland, will pick up his brushes and his pen- and hope to do justice to his beautiful homeland.
For more information and to view Frank’s work see: www.frankmosleyart.com
Text by Frank Mosley.