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‘Pulse of the landscape’: North Uist artistic collective celebrates latest exhibition amid fight for island’s art course

"We have things being covered and uncovered all the time," says artist Marnie Keltie.

Two women sit drawing on a rugged landscape, facing water.
Fiona Pearson and Marnie Keltie work out in the landscape of Uist. Photo: Strands

North Uist artistic collective Strands is bringing an exhibition to ‘the centre of the Highlands’ for the first time.

Strands is a group of seven artists, all based in North Uist.

Their exhibition Surfacing will be shown at Inverness Creative Academy from October 10 to 25.

The title was inspired by Scottish Makar Kathleen Jamie’s latest book of essays.

It’s “a really beautiful book”, says Strands member Fiona Pearson, “about things being revealed, partly through global warming and partly through tidal conditions.”

On the islands of Uist, artist Marnie Keltie says, “we see that on a daily basis – we have things being covered and uncovered all the time.”

Fellow Strands member Cally Yeatman describes this as the “pulse of the dynamic landscape”.

Visitors to the exhibition will see a whole range of artwork inspired by the tidal patterns of island life.

Artwork an ‘inter-tidal zone’

Fergus Granville’s sculptural work contains “the bones of birds, fish and mammals, the cosmopolitan marine flotsam and jetsam that arrives here from many sources, encrusted and transformed by the sea,” he says, as well as “artefacts from ancient archaeological sites, revealed by tide and wind”.

Corinna Krause, a bookbinder, also uses an eclectic mix of “natural and industrial materials” in her work — “whatever the beach reveals on my early-morning dog walks,” she says.

Meanwhile, for painter Sheenagh Patience, a canvas is “like an inter-tidal zone”.

“Improvisation and the smallest of variables in composition echo the complexity of nature,” Sheenagh says.

An abstract oil painting by Sheenagh Patience for North Uist artistic collective, Strands, exhibition in Inverness.
‘Sound of Harris 1’ by Sheenagh Patience. Picture: Strands

While the art on show at Surfacing is deeply rooted in the landscape of North Uist, Strands has an international origin story.

“There was a group of German artists who have a connection here with one of our members, Corinna,” Marnie says. “They wanted to have an exchange with us. So they brought an exhibition here and a group of artists from [Uist] took an exhibition there.”

The friendships they made lasted, and Fiona began working jointly with one of the German artists — a young woman who has since passed away.

“And they invited some others, including me, to join,” says Marnie.

Fergus Granville's 'Murder Bowl', a small sculpture made from bird bones, to be shown at the Surfacing exhibition at Inverness Creative Academy
Fergus Granville’s ‘Murder Bowl’. Picture: Strands

Since its inception, Strands has held critically acclaimed exhibitions in Germany, London and Edinburgh.

Fiona says the group is excited to finally exhibit “right in the centre of the Highlands”, after taking their artwork so much further from home.

Even as they celebrate their success, however, the artists of Strands are having to fight for the future of the arts on Uist.

North Uist art course in danger

Fiona began the University of the Highlands and Islands’ (UHI) National Certificate Art and Design course in the 1990s. Now, due to low enrollment, UHI is deciding whether or not the course should continue.

Marnie took the course herself — “I was 55 when I got my degree,” she says.

The idea of the course being scrapped has left her “gutted”.

North Uist artist Sheenagh Patience painting a picture of shards of ceramics.
Sheenagh Patience at work in her studio. Photo: Strands

Being able to study on North Uist “meant such a lot”, she says. “Now I’ve got an art career, and lots of others are teaching.”

“For young people leaving school, it’s a big step from the island to life on the mainland and some of them just aren’t ready,” Marnie says. “So they need a further education course.”

‘It’s a small thing – but it matters’

The course was a vital resource even for those who went on to work outside the arts.

“Studying something creative helps you in whatever sphere you choose, and it also gave these young people a stepping stone,” Marnie says. “If they take away [the course], what further education is there on this island?”

“I just think it’s criminal.”

“It’s a small number [of students.] It’s a small place. It’s a small, small thing — but it matters,” Fiona says.

Alongside Uist’s strong community of artists, she is working to save the course she founded.

“People in Uist are certainly not going to sit down and let this course go away.”

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