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Shetland Arts is taking part in Homecoming Scotland 2009's celebrations with Creative Connections Shetland, a programme of summer schools, concerts, events and a residency in August, beginning with the new exhibition, 'Diaspora', at Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale Mill.  The show runs from 1 - 31 August with a preview on 31 July at 7.30pm.  Most of the artists will be attending the preview and an invitation is extended to everyone to come and meet them, perhaps renewing old acquaintances.

Diaspora refers to the movement of any population sharing common ethnic identity forced to leave, or who voluntarily left their settled territory, and became residents in areas often far remote from the former.  Taking this as the title and theme for the show Shetland Arts invited four artists who left Shetland to live elsewhere, and four artists who have settled in Shetland to show their work resulting in an eclectic mix.

Robert Ollason was born in Shetland, and after graduating from Edinburgh College of Art in 1961, and teaching art and design in Edinburgh and Shetland, he followed a lifelong passion for the large animals of Africa and went on to spend five happy and inspired years in Kenya.  On his return to the UK he took up the post of Head of Education at Edinburgh Zoo where, for the next 27 years he continued to be surrounded by exotic animals and to travel extensively in East and Southern Africa, leading wildlife tours.  Robert's work captures on paper 'the various kinds of stripes and also the spots, blotches and other markings and textures on certain animals' coats.'  He continues, 'I enjoy attempting to express an animal's form through its pattern'.  A number of his animal studies are included in this exhibition.

Still influenced by the same Nordic, maritime sources today as he was when a student at ECA in the early seventies Alex Malcolmson, who has spent the last 30 years running a very successful gallery based in land-locked Yorkshire, lives far away from the sea which inspires his work.  'Indeed at a distance the focus on some kind of island identity seems to make me sharper,' says the artist whose work, over the past ten years or so, has been creating box constructions made mainly from wood, carved and painted, sometimes incorporating found objects.  His influences include Joseph Cornell, ship dioramas and other marine folk art and for 'Diaspora' he has taken folk, naïve and primitive art; the kind of objects made for use and ornament, often by unnamed makers, as the main source of the work.

Another ECA graduate Lillian Tait studied art and design alongside Alex Malcolmson and 15 years ago she left Shetland again to study art therapy.  This has been a major influence on her work and the reason she began to paint again.  'I indulge myself; paintings of Jesus in Gethsemane or, as in the case of the angels, painting for the sheet joy of the process.  Or even painting my younger self transported to another country ... if I feel so inclined! 'Lillian believes that her exile has little to do with the style or subject matter of her paintings and that if she ever returned to Shetland she would continue to paint whatever she fancied.  A number of her angel works are included in the exhibition so those who knew Lillian in her youth can decide whether they resemble her 'younger self'.

The fourth artist to move away is Katherine Laidlay who has lived in Dundee for the past 16 years, and although she sees beauty in the city's, famous bridges and striking skyline, she has stayed in Dundee for the people.  'I still have the same appreciation for those around me, and the importance of friendship still exists, says Katherine.  The characters whom she has known since a student, and more recently through her work in the community, has influenced her and in turn her work which is mainly figurative, sometimes expressing a mood, an emotion, sometimes a visual response to a question or thought.  Her preferred medium is charcoal allowing the exploration of exaggerated contrasts.  In her recent work she has been concentrating on her perception of home which can be taken literally but more and more her realisation is that home is more about sense - a sense of belonging and of comfort.

Shetland based artist, Peter Davis, moved to the isles in 1991 following a decade living in Orkney, so the northern isles influences, its colours, climate and remoteness was already prevalent in his work.  'What I found particular to Shetland was a much more elemental landscape, pared down to essentials,' said Peter who was born in the north east of England at the edge of the sea. 'The inorganic processes of nature such as crystallization, desiccation, and fluidity are mirrored in the action of a medium like watercolour.  It is one of the most natural of the painting media and one I worked with for more than 30 years.  It is not an easy medium and there are many variables involved in making a watercolour,' comments the artist whose paintings are contemplative and soothing while drawing the viewer into the depths of their space.

In the summer of 1973 Gail Harvey, a student at Glasgow School of Art, spent her summer in Shetland working in a fish factory and the Queens Hotel, Lerwick.  She often escaped into the Shetland countryside and loved the landscape and the people, reminding her of childhood summers off the west coast of Scotland.  In 1988 Gail returned and is still residing in Shetland and painting its landscape.  Her work which features the islands in all weathers and seasons is much sought after, and she has earned her living as a well respected painter for many years. She says, 'Twenty one years later my life and painting have gone through changes.  The way I see the landscape is affected by this.  It reveals itself in new ways, and will go on changing with time.'  This exhibition will be rare opportunity for visitors to Bonhoga to see, and buy, work by this successful artist.

Ruth Brownlee's artist statement quotes 'My work explores interpretations of the visual drama of Shetland, capturing the changing moods and atmosphere of its seas and coastlines.'  She trained at ECA and moved to Shetland in 1998 to concentrate on painting. She has won many prestigious awards and exhibits extensively throughout the UK and at international art fairs. Ruth has developed a strong and distinctive style that captures Shetland, the play of light and shade over the land and sea and the force of the elements.

The youngest and newest resident artist is Kristi Cumming.  She is actually a retuning Shetlander who left when she was in primary 2 and has returned to live permanently three years ago.  She said that growing up in Shetland, the exposure to vast expanses of sea and sky, have remained lasting influences in the work she produces today. Her paintings are trying to capture the experienced emotions of being surrounded by light, water and iridescent colour. Kristi graduated in 1999 from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee and has exhibited in various solo and group shows throughout Scotland and Spain.  Her vibrant palette captures Shetland's land, sea and sky in an imaginative and dramatic style.

'We are delighted to being showing eight such talented artists at Bonhoga as part of the Scottish Homecoming Celebrations,' said Curator Mary Smith. 'The work is very diverse and we are sure that many of the gallery visitors will find it interesting to see work by these artists who in some way think of Shetland as home.'

Bonhoga Gallery is open 10.30 - 4.30 pm Monday to Saturday and noon to 4.30pm on Sundays

Please contact us for further information

Images of Diaspora

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