Stromness + The Pier Arts Centre
Hello! Finally! A blog post all about Stromness, and more importantly the Pier Arts Centre, my favourite place in Orkney. If, like me, you’d never heard of The Pier Arts Centre, you’re in for a real treat. I’d never heard of the gallery before, and in all honesty, I was expecting a very small art gallery with a very small collection of work which wasn’t of much interest. However, I was so surprised to find all of my preconceptions were completely off the mark. The collection is large and features a lot of important British modernist work from my favourite artists such as Winifred Nicholson, Mary Newcomb, Alfred Wallis, Sylvia Wishart and Barbara Hepworth.
Margaret Gardiner gifted a large part of her art collection to Orkney. A lot of the artists she collected from were based in St Ives. Even before seeing the collection, Stromness was so reminiscent of St Ives, with its grey, towering fisherman’s cottages, cobbled streets, little alleys and winding pathways. It is also a centre for artists. Many of the windows here feature little window displays: carefully curated shells from a beach walk, floral arrangements, pretty bowls, lace curtains and model boats. There was more than the maritime link between the two towns to connect them! They even had the grey, drizzly weather in common.
It usually rains whilst we’re in Stromness. We went last Saturday, as it’s mine and Jacks last weekend together before I start work next week. It poured with rain, and everything was soaked, even my beret underneath my waterproof hood. But it was a glorious day. I am squeezing in a visit to this exhibition as often as I can before it closes for the Annual Artists Open at Christmas. Beyond Landscape, their current exhibition is my favourite to date. It charts artists reactions to the landscape, especially island life. There are some works in the show that I’ve been so keen to see, like Winifred Nicholson’s Sounds of Rhum, from Bay of Laig, Isle of Eigg (The Singing Sands) from the early 1950’s, and it just happened to be part of the exhibition. I love this painting, with all the shades of putty- like grey. She also has another painting as part of the exhibition, a landscape view with a picnic blanket and a vase of flowers. I love this painting, partly because I love a picnic, but also because of its colour. The colours are so rich, especially in this part of the gallery where the ceilings are low and a lot of the paintings are very low down.
There was also another reason for our visit. I’d had my eye on Pond, by Claire- Louise Bennett for a while now, and had tried to find it in Edinburgh with no luck! I’d seen it months ago in Stromness Books and Prints, and was captivated by the series of short stories, partly for the description which read, ‘broken bowls, belligerent cows, swanky aubergines, rambling moonrises and horrifying sunsets’. As someone who lives on an island, this list made complete sense, so we went back to the shop to buy it. I spotted it straight away, with its jarring, ultramarine spine. What a book! I’m about a third of the way through, and it has been such a joy. Its reminiscent of Virginia Woolf, with its long rambling prose. Her descriptions of domestic life, through the eyes of someone who prefers to be alone is just joyous. I’ve written a quote below,
“A splendid deep wide sill with no wooden overlay, just the plastered stone, nice and chilly: the perfect place for a bowl. Even a few actually, a few bowls in fact. The sills so big it can accommodate three sizeable bowls very well without appearing the least bit encumbered. It’s quite pleasant, then, to unpack the pannier bags and arrange everything intently in the bowls upon the sill”
Thinking back to The Pier Arts Centre, I’m really excited to be exhibiting as part of their Annual Open Exhibition! It’s amazing that such a prestigious gallery allows local residents to submit work for their annual event. The exhibition is open to all who live here, with no restrictions. Last year I submitted some works, and awaited for the result, only to be told that there’s no judging process! All works were allowed! And what a joyous idea, children work sits side by side with established artists. A gallery which celebrates the community in which it lives. Delightful!