Highlands & Islands

Assynt's Gaelic influence on artist's surreal paintings

Seordag between David Hutchison's gran Chrissie and mother Joan Image copyright David Hutchison
Image caption David Hutchison's inspirational great aunt Seordag Murray, middle, with the artist's grandmother Chrissie and mother Joan

A Scottish artist has drawn on his upbringing among some of the last native Gaelic speakers in Assynt for a series of new and surreal paintings.

David Hutchison is based in Edinburgh, where his new exhibition of video and paintings - Seordag and The Deadgirls - opens next month.

The artwork features an unusual mix of a robot hen, two haunting female figures and Suilven, a famous mountain in Assynt.

Artist and film-maker Hutchison grew up in and around Inverkirkaig in Assynt, in north west Sutherland, an area of small communities set in spectacular landscape of hills, mountains and lochs.

He says the place and the people living and working there made a big impression on his young life, and his later art.

One of those people was Hutchison's great aunt, Seordag Murray. Her passion for Gaelic language and its culture have led to arts projects, including the works in the new exhibition.

Hutchison said: "My great aunt was one of the last few native Gaelic speakers in Assynt.

"Keen to keep the language alive she taught free Gaelic classes and, along with my mother Joan and uncle Kenny MacKenzie, prepared us children for the Mod."

The Royal National Mod is Scotland's biggest annual celebration of Gaelic.

Image copyright David Hutchison
Image caption Artist David Hutchison's Gaelic language animation Seordag the TV Hen emerged, in part, from singing at the Royal National Mod

Held over a number of days, the Mod features music and singing performances and also competitions judged by prominent figures in the Gaelic community.

"I was never very good at Gaelic singing," says Hutchison. "The low point being placed last in a competition and being told I sang like a Dalek by judge Anne Lorne Gilles."

But he adds: "It was during one of these classes when fellow pupil Wilma Macleod's lively rendition of the story Càit An Dèan Mi Mo Nead? - Where Will I Make My Nest - was stuck in my head forever more."

Wilma's song started an idea forming in Hutchison's about a nest-building hen. But being a fan of film and technology - an interest fuelled by his Great Aunt Seordag's work during World War Two at a secret radar station - Hutchison's fowl was not of the more familiar feathered variety. It was a robot.

Image copyright David Hutchison
Image caption Hutchison's painting Deadgirls Feeding TV Hen

This idea grew into a bigger one for a short animated film.

Hutchison says: "I turned our shed in Inverkirkaig into a set and built the robot hen.

"I managed to get funding from STV to make daft short called Cearc Agus Ubh - Chicken and Egg - about a metal hen that hatches from a gold egg."

Later, in 2003, the robot hen evolved into Seordag TV, a bilingual website "to carry on Seordag's Gaelic teaching work".

And the Deadgirls element of the paintings is also rooted in Hutchison's boyhood in Assnyt.

He says: "I was inspired by a family, who I remembered as a child. They were three brothers and a sister. They always wore black and were deeply religious.

Image copyright David Hutchison
Image caption The exhibition in Edinburgh features paintings the artist made last year

"The sister sometimes came down to the school to lure back a stray sheep with some bread.

"Walking the two-and-a-half miles home in moonlight to Inverkirkaig at night after a disco in the Lochinver Village Hall you had to go past their dark tree-shrouded home at the corner of the loch, known locally as The Zombie's Corner, and sometimes you'd catch one of the brothers watching you from behind a tree.

"All that creepiness was just a fantasy in my child's head and they were in reality a nice ordinary family."

The artist mixed the "creepiness" with his love for actress Audrey Hepburn's look in the classic film Breakfast at Tiffany's "and Deadgirls were born".

Last year, Hutchison combined his Deadgirl art with Seordag TV between post-production on Baobhan Sith, a comedy horror film he had made and starring Slumdog Millionaire actress Janet De Vigne.

"The first of the paintings was Deadgirls Feeding TV Hen. From then on I couldn't stop painting them together," says Hutchison.

His new exhibition at Edinburgh's Cameo Cinema Bar will run from March to April.