Landscape artists

If you really want a fresh perspective on your country, writes television director Arlene Searle, see it through the eyes of your landscape painters.

Wendy Sutherland

Wendy Sutherland

In a cramped box room, paint splashing onto worn 1970's carpet, Wendy Sutherland is having a conversation with canvas. A wallpaper of haphazardly arranged photographs cover every inch of space, material for her expansive, subtle yet raw paintings. The pictures surrounding her are of the great Jurassic hills behind Brora... Read full article

Interviews with Wendy Sutherland

John Lowrie Morrison

John Lowrie Morrison

Selling £2m of landscape art a year, his images on mugs, cards and calendars, one artist who seems to have found an answer is the godfather of contemporary Scottish landscape painting, John Lowrie Morrison.

"If you look at English landscape painting," he says "the colours are much more subdued but in Scotland we have great colour, we love high-key colours. That goes way back to McTaggart and the Scottish Colourists..." Read more

Interviews with John Lowrie Morrison

Nael Hanna

Nael Hanna

Often to be found in the small coves dotted from Catterline to Dundee, up to his waist in water in a wetsuit, Nael Hanna shoves heavy domestic paint brushes into 5 litre tins of oil paint and makes marks obsessively.

"While I am working I keep thinking how can I satisfy myself? I start building up texture and throw paint, if I see something happen, or maybe a bird passes me, maybe I put it" Read more

Interviews with Nael Hanna

Pam Carter

Pam Carter

Tanzanian-born artist Pam Carter arrived in Scotland at the age of 13, and cites Scotland's land and seascape as her main inspiration.

"...I am equally inspired by the changing light sequences of the Western Isles and the dramatic view pionts of the Eastern coastline." Read more

Pam Carter talks about the influence of the countryside and landscapes on her work.

Interviews with Pam Carter

Studio with a view

extract from Auburn Moorland by Wendy Sutherland. image copyright Wendy Sutherland

In a cramped box room, paint splashing onto worn 1970's carpet, Wendy Sutherland is having a conversation with canvas. A wallpaper of haphazardly arranged photographs cover every inch of space, material for her expansive, subtle yet raw paintings. The pictures surrounding her are of the great Jurassic hills behind Brora and the remarkable relationship Wendy has with them, makes her one of Scotland's most exciting contemporary painters.

"I live and work in a croft that has been in the family since 1820 and being brought up in this landscape is part of who I am," she explains in a soft, considered tone. "These are the images I wake up with first thing in the morning and what I see at night, when I brush my teeth, when I wash my face, every time I close my eyes, they're just there and I have to get them out."

extract from Tree Renderings by Wendy Sutherland. image copyright Wendy Sutherland

Watching Wendy 'get them out' is like watching a dialogue with the sound turned down. Like most landscape painters today she doesn't work plein air, preferring to take her sketch books, or as she shyly confesses, her confounding, new, digital SLR camera, out into the landscape, to select vistas and details to be fused into large scale works back in the studio. Editing the landscape, she sees what most of us don't.

"I love the fact that within nature beauty can be really hidden, hidden deeply. Like underneath the ground, there can be a dirty old rock and you can open it up and there can be this fossil inside, the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. I love it that nature doesn't shout it from the rooftops, look at me, look at all the beauty I have."

Her brush moves with quiet confidence. Layer upon layer she works the composition, listening to what it needs. Purples and blues are mixed with linseed oil to keep them translucent and glowing, sometimes she uses varnish to resist the colour, other times shellac resin forms a textural base, hinting at geological stories beneath the surface. A stroke of Highland romance, a sweep of meteorological savagery; each application is the next step on a climb towards a summit. At the top, when the euphoria subsides, you find the diffused stillness of a perfect view.

But perfect views haven't been fashionable in art for decades. Often dismissed as 'uncool' and 'passé', landscape painting has played second fiddle to headline-grabbing conceptual art, pretty much since the 1970s. Yet look at the market today and there's a distinct revival of interest in Scottish landscape. Wendy is one of a growing number of artists who show regularly South of the border and internationally, selling a vision of Scotland's hills, lochs and seascapes that is both head-on and demanding. What is it about Scottish landscape that is now inspiring such collectable painting? Two West Coast artists seem to have found an answer.

Pam Carter

extract from Balemartin Blues by Pam Carter (image copyright Pam Carter)

"Tiree was a lovely, secret, little island before I started painting it," says Tanzanian-born Pam Carter, whose paintings of the Outer Hebrides are among the most recognizable in Scottish art. Her turquoise waters and deep, island skies are described by collectors as 'joyful', so joyful in fact that many are willing to pay up to £5000 per canvas to make that experience a permanent feature in their home.

Calling herself a 'green artist', nothing goes to waste in Pam's studio. Leftover oil paints are blended into a grey-green basecoat. After accurate drawing and applications of pre-mixed hues, bright images emerge from the sludge-coloured mist: a quiet hamlet, clothes drying on a blustery day, a lone seagull gliding on a thermal. Coming from a background in gouache and watercolours, a graphic brightness combined with an eye for a scene's cultural past has become Pam's signature style.

extract from Beach Line by Pam Carter (image copyright Pam Carter)

"Light features strongly in my work, whether it is light bouncing off the waters or sunlit sands before an encroaching storm, or sunlight moving across the landscape. It's ever changing, ever travelling... light is synonymous with hope, a feeling of wellbeing that is my strength and my inspiration."

And of course where there's light there's colour.

John Lowrie Morrison

extract from John Lowrie Morrison's West Coast Sketchbook. image copyright JoLoMo

Selling £2m of landscape art a year, his images on mugs, cards and calendars, one man who knows all about colour is the godfather of contemporary Scottish landscape painting, John Lowrie Morrison.

"If you look at English landscape painting," he says "the colours are much more subdued but in Scotland we have great colour, we love high-key colours. That goes way back to McTaggart and the Scottish Colourists. Thomas Faed did a lot for Scottish landscape and he is mid 19th century, a lot of his work is figurative but the colours are definitely there."

Huge racks of drying canvases line the walls of John's bright, airy studio at Lochgilphead, en masse they form an assault of colour. From floor to ceiling they radiate artists who have influenced him: A gable end of a croft crouches against the wind, echoing the distortion of the Norwegian Edvard Munch, West Coast shorelines remind you of the chromatic exuberance of German Expressionist Emil Nolde. The action and reaction of John's palette is high voltage.

extract from John Lowrie Morrison's West Coast Sketchbook. image copyright JoLoMo

"There's something about strong colour that pulls people into a painting and I just love doing that," he twinkles. "It does something to their spirit that's really important. But I do try to achieve a balance of heightened colour, of composition and texture. The world is an unbalanced place and for me as a Christian I try to bring a sense of beauty and harmony into people's lives."

Despite his intentions, John's imagery is prolific and many criticize it for being too commercial. His response?

"Galleries phone me and say can we have twenty beach scenes and I say 'no it doesn't work like that'. You've got to paint for yourself and that's how you stay fresh, painting from yourself for yourself."

With their dazzling sunlit foregrounds and brooding, cloud-covered horizons, John's freshness is pure Hebridean drama. But take a drive to the East Coast to see Nael Hanna's paintings and the effect is totally different. Here you swap buzzing Expressionism for the more autumnal energy of the great Romantic tradition.

Nael Hanna

extract from Angus Farm by Nael Hanna. image copyright Nael Hanna

Often to be found in the small coves dotted from Catterline to Dundee, up to his waist in water in a wetsuit, Nael Hanna shoves heavy domestic paint brushes into 5 litre tins of oil paint and makes marks obsessively.

"While I am working I keep thinking how can I satisfy myself? I start building up texture and throw paint, if I see something happen, or maybe a bird passes me, maybe I put it"

Nael's thick Middle Eastern accent is animated, his eyes widen. "I see lots of sound, and the waves hit the cliffs and make the sound of music, the high tide the low tide, that's why I'm hooked."

There's a reason for Nael's addiction. Born in Northern Iraq in Nineveh, the ethnically diverse heart of ancient Assyria, he grew up with the winds of the Sinjar mountains and the waterfalls of the Tigris. Injured in the Iran Iraq war he became an artist under Saddam Hussein before being exiled to Scotland in the mid 1980s.

In the reflective space of his studio, an old church near Dundee, a fuller picture emerges.

extract from St Cyrus East Coast by Nael Hanna. image copyright Nael Hanna

"I had a lot of sorrowness in me when I came to Scotland," his voice is subdued, "I was a war artist in the past and actually it's self healing, because I came with lots of wounds from the war. Soldiers crucified and officers with big buck teeth I still have the drawings. Here I forget myself, Scotland is a spiritual place for me."

At a distance Nael's immersive 10 foot wide seascapes are orchestral, it's no surprise to see a paint-spattered CD of Rimsky Korsakov lying on a shelf. Close-up his rusty ochres could be abstract maps of his former homeland. But Nael isn't only compelled by his own background, he's drawn to every foot that has stepped across the views he paints. Looking at his painting you begin to see your own surroundings in a new light.

"Glen Coe is full of history and sorrowness, it reminds me of my own country and the past here. The Glen Coe massacre of the people, sometimes you see it in my painting, I put a little bit of red here and there, to try and capture it. I react easily to that area."

So, there it is, perhaps the most significant insight into why landscape painters like Wendy, John and Nael are striking a chord. Believable landscape art doesn't just show an understanding of topography or our ever changing weather and seasons, at its best, it creates a contemporary and fresh story from a human past.

"It's funny you should say that," responds John "people often say it's as if the figure has just left my painting."

In March 2008 Landward with Nick Nairn broadcast these four items profiling the work of Scottish landscape artists, directed by Arlene Searle.

The additional videos are extended video clips of the artists' interviews, recorded while filming the Landward series.

Page first published on Thursday 6th March 2008
Page last updated on Tuesday 12th May 2009

Your Views

carl j. leonard
have you looked at the works of wm. boswell currie?his daughter mary currie nicholson his great granddaughter alison nicholson?

Scottish Art Lover
Looks like someone is on the ball with the scottish art scene as they picked out Keith Salmon long before he won the Jolomo award this weekend - well done!

riyanna
i very much enjoy looking at the mixture of work that shows at the hanna gallery, i do feel that nael hanna can handle many measures and mixtures of painting style, i find it most inspirational to see his ever expanding abilities of painting from live locations......he conveyes true compation for his landscapes.

Scotlands Art Replies to David
Have a look at Keith Salmon!

david
A question for Ian Mcleod:Ian, as a transplanted Scot living in the US and interested in the current state of Scottish landscape painting, whom would you suggest I look at?

x . . . katie . . . x
you need some vincent van gogh okay good :)

Jock Ferguson
Nael Hanna has a 30 minute documentary (in three parts) on Youtube.Celtic Waves.

ian mcleod
lowrie morrison is a factory not an artist. and 'jolomo'? how naff can you get?pam carter is a painter by numbers.both lack any real creativity and work by formulae. sadly programmes such as landward merely confirm what a lot of people think is good landscape painting when it is no more than commercial dross. at least nael hanna is physically and intellectually engaged with the landscape.

Derek M.F.Soutar
John Lowrie Morrison has singlehandedly done more for Scottish landscape painting than anyone in recent times non of which is to it`s benefit.I have never seen such a visual mis-representation of a truly magestic and awe inspiring concept as the Scottish landscape.For some tome now I have been deeply saddened.

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