Sketchbook notes from the drifting spaces

Pier Arts Centre ‘Living Colour’ Exhibition, Stromness

Probably one of Scotland’s best art galleries although far from the cities in the beautiful Orkney Mainland, the artwork at The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness (which has a connection to the Tate) is often nicely presented and curated. And so I wasn’t disappointed by their recent exhibition ‘Living Colour’ which a friend had recommended to me. This was a tremendously exciting show, in a way a retrospective documenting, and also repositioning, animation and especially hand painted artwork onto film (rather than filming with a camera) as truly powerful artistic statements that were ahead of their time.

Monochrome drawing of fishing boats near the pier in Stromness Harbour, Orkney, with the town on the hill behind and the mountains of Hoy under cloud in the distance

5 minute sketch with marker of Stromness harbour and the Viking Monarch

Digital photo of the Pier Arts Centre on the shore near the pier, with the rear of building and modern extension with glass, town of Stromness behind

The Pier Arts Centre, photo John Ireland (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Highlights of the show began right away with Oskar Fischinger’s ‘Radio Dynamics’, a transcendental and fast paced trip of a film with a an experimental range of shapes and colours to lose yourself in. This piece pushes the visual boundaries, taking abstract expressionism into moving image in a forward pulling relentless exploration that is mesmerising. Seeing its mature combinations, reminiscent of that of the American based painters Hans Hoffman, Josef Albers and Mark Rothko, questions our understanding of abstraction at that time.

Part of the McLaren 2014 programme, the next strong piece was by the pioneering Scottish filmmaker himself, Norman McLaren, from 1949 – ‘Begone Dull Care’ (see the 7min 52s video below, courtesy of The National Film Board of Canada). Watch the visuals of this frameless film flow with the jazzy music and especially piano by the Oscar Peterson Trio. The splashy and textured mark-making slides from very simple and funny-quirky to more heavy, built up and layered surfaces, but mainly has a delightful drawing feel, and one which is so in tune with the processes as well as the free sounds of the instruments.

Begone Dull Care by Evelyn Lambart& by Norman McLaren, National Film Board of Canada

Moving towards the end of the show’s chronology, more recent work included a speedy piece by self taught filmmaker Ian Helliwell called ‘Get Set’ – here the artist made the excellent soundtrack with a toy organ. It was great to see that the seminal ‘Dresden Dynamo’ (16mm film, made 1974, 5 mins, colour, 4:3) by Lis Rhodes was on display too.

I had enjoyed seeing this very electronic feeling piece in the Tramway art gallery in Glasgow, through the LUX Collection, a year or so ago, and although on a smaller screen, the cadmium red and cereleum-cobalt blue linear minimalism was again highly striking. The pureness of the abstraction seen here in her earlier work hits the mark, thematically totally non verbal or language orientated, stemming from the method of sound creation that the projector bulb would interpret the sound of the images…

“It was perhaps the question of sound – the uncertainty of any synchronicity between what was seen and what was said that began an investigation into the relationship of sound to image. Dresden Dynamo is a film that I made in 1972 without a camera – in which the image is exactly the sound track – the sound track the image. A film document.” – Lis Rhodes

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