Shells represent treasures from the deep unknown, portals to a mythopoetic realm. Since pre-historic times we have picked them up, placed them to our ears to hear the wind and sea and looked at them in wonder. For over a decade I became enchanted by the interior world of tiny shells found during many walks on the beaches of the western isles of Scotland. These magically engineered little spaces filled me with awe and transported me to an otherworldly place. The architecture of these tiny structures, their curves and arches, shapes and lines often reminding me of Gothic Cathedrals. I would arrange the shells and observe them through a tiny viewfinder, enlarging the forms on canvas and with oils, painting them to a monumental scale. While abstracting, adding light and shade and creating sculptural imagery I aimed to create artworks of a contemplative and reflective nature.
More recently bird’s nests have been the focus of my attention. From the small miracle of carefully woven moss, lichen and grass intertwined with hair and cobwebs, to the layering of twigs and clay, the architecture of bird’s nests is as varied and diverse as the species itself. I worked from life with my collection of little nests found over the thirty years or so that I have lived in rural Angus. Some nests are cup shaped, some domed, some constructed with twigs and some incorporating tiny pieces of baling twine, bits of paper and plastic.
Since earliest times and throughout history birds have been creatures of the mythic imagination. In folklore and stories the world over, birds have served as mediators between humans and the gods, with the ability to cross between the human world and the realms of the heavens. In Celtic lore fairies were known to appear in the shape of white birds and many birds were thought to bring healing powers, light and transition from one state of existence to the next, representing the eternal soul, separate from the life of the body.
Assembled with only feet and beaks I was compelled to paint these little habitats in an attempt to learn through observation more about their engineering. However, through attentiveness to myth and story, as well as to science, my hope was to bring an awareness of the spiritual and to create a magical and ethereal depth to the work.