My last week went by in a frenzy of glue and varnish as I made a series of collograph blocks (printing blocks made by collaging onto card. The blocks are varnished to make them watertight before being inked and wiped like an etching plates). An idea or response to all the boats on the gravestones at the abbey here on Iona and some of the found items in the museum (marble stone beads and a little norse silver bell) had been growing in my mind and finally at about midnight one night I set to with glue and scissors and by morning there were collage blocks dry and ready for varnishing then printing. I spent the day mixing inks and planning the print. Its got 14 separate printing blocks so its a lot of inking and wiping before you can print anything. John told me the boat is a “Birlinn” which is a Hebridean war ship and differs from a Viking long ship in that it has a hinged rudder whereas the long ship uses a gigantic oar for steering. I was thinking a lot about the idea of a boat as a vessel particularly in the journey from life to death, and the use of bells in ceremony and ritual. The beads went from green marble to orange. It was a tense decision as introducing a very radical colour like that sometimes makes a print but often reduces a print to a write-off but I just had an urge for orange beads and I am a risk taker at heart. It was mixed from Indian yellow, primrose yellow and warm red and half of the smaller bears were inked just in warm red then blended into the orange. Here is “Birlinn, Beads, Birds and Bell”.
The boat collograph block worked well – so next day I made a semi abstract whale and a swan to pick up on some earlier thinking I had been doing about “The Sea Roads” – the way that sea places become connected by marine roads and the old English or anglo saxon “Kennings” – riddles or descriptive sentances . So a series of prints is now underway based on old sea words like Svan-rad – the swan road, Hwael –weg, the whale way, Seolbaeth, the seal-bath, Fiscesethel, the fishes’ realm, Windgeard, the winds’ home ……..
So this is a whole new body of work which has jumped out from the last week of the residency. I also leave Iona with better connection to myself. There was a clarity for me here – I connected to myself from BC (before children),able to roam the hills on my own and look after myself, and also to myself now in 2015. I had this absolutely clear focus on the island – when I put pen to paper things happened. I walked every day and I drew every day and I spent time doing good work in my sketch book. I leave Iona with my creativity very much refreshed and stimulated and a lot of work to do to make the ideas that have come up into a body of work.
I took final few longer walks – not actually far from the north end of Iona but very “wandery”, heading over the rocky face of Dun I looking in detail at the remnants of juniper wood growing there and across the orange machair in the afternoon sun and exploring the woods planted by Marc for John. The wood is very exciting – there are all sorts of birds there – snipe and smaller birds especially wrens. Its still very small but its growing and by fencing out the sheep over such an extensive area they have created a chance for a natural recovery of the biodiversity of the Island. It will be really special in a few years time. It would be good to take cuttings from the old stock of juniper and other trees hanging onto the cliffs and to re-introduce them to the woodland – they are probably very old genetically.
Remnant Juniper wood, the machair in afternoon sunshine and John and Marc’s woodland shaping up well
Finally my time has come to an end. John organised a little show of my work for anyone on the island who wanted to see and lots of people came! I provide cakes and John some wine and by then Roddy and my daughters and friend Theresa have come and harp and whistles provide a musical backdrop to a lovely afternoon.
A splendid feast follows for all of us staying at the hostel and I say goodbye to my little hut and sleep the final night in the hostel ready for an early start next morning. I immediately miss the sound of the wind, birds and sea – at times it was very noisy in the hut – horizontal hailstones on the outside of a tin hut would wake up the deepest sleeper! And at times its been cold but as the month has gone on I found I adapted to feeling colder and needed the heater less and less. Back indoors I feel slightly deadened – as if less connected to the wind and weather and nature around me. Although its been tough at times being in the hut in February has been a very special part of the experience. I found a poem by Scottish poet Norman Bissell (who lives near Luing I think) which neatly captures my feeling of sleeping in the hut.
its hard to tell
the sound of the wind
from the sound of the waves.
Or the sound of the waves
from the sound of the rain.
Or the sound of the wind,
and the waves and the rain
from the sound of my breath.
I am back in Dumfries and Galloway now and inland again – I miss the salty-ness but its good to see everyone again. I am home and its good but I feel I am not quite fully here yet. The speed of traffic came as a shock after a month of travelling only on foot on Iona and of course not having many cars on the island. I still have a lot of catching up to do but I have brought a couple of wooden oars back with me and one is going back to Iona for John when its painted so I will get to go back again…..maybe in slightly less extreme weather? In the meantime I have my own hut to sort out here – my studio is a hut in the garden and needs a serious clean to let me get to work on the response to this residency, so I am heading out to catch up on hut dwelling and fondly remember my month on Iona. My work from the Iona residency will be on show at Spring Fling from 23-25th May 2015 http://www.spring-fling.co.uk/artists/sarah-keast