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Artist puts her surroundings in the frame for trailblazing Dingwall exhibition; Carole Saxon exhibition hosted by The Alchemist in county town


By Hector MacKenzie

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Carole Saxon
Carole Saxon

AN artist inspired by the countryside around her home in Maryburgh has been turning heads in Ross-shire’s newest gallery.

Carole Saxon was given the honour of first exhibition to be staged at The Alchemist in Dingwall.

The show, named Birch, comes to an end in the High Street venue, a former pharmacy, this week.

Belfast-born Ms Saxon has arrived in Ross-shire via stints in Caithness and Orkney. She has worked as an art teacher and staged several exhibitions in Orkney.

She said the move from Orkney to Maryburgh “has meant a complete change in subject for me” with trees and hidden wildlife now part of the allure.

Her exhibition at the gallery closes this week.

She said: "As the bracken finds its way each spring, pushing up through last year’s skeletal and crumbling remains, I am impressed by how tall it grows, how strong, and what a dense sub-forest it forms. It is the world of hidden life in the woodland undergrowth; tall and dense enough to conceal a faun, it is the ‘underground railway’ of the forest.

"So much lives here in the birch woods around us. It exists here so quietly, and so warily, that it is only when I hold my breath, and step off the beaten track, venturing into the deepest parts of the wood, and then, only if I am lucky, do I see the quiet deer.

Artist Carole Saxon with Hazel Gordon of The Alchemist. Picture: Callum Mackay
Artist Carole Saxon with Hazel Gordon of The Alchemist. Picture: Callum Mackay

"When I am painting the different elements that make up the birch woodlands, I try to capture the character and the essence of the birch, with its spindly narrow trunk, often walking-stick-straight, sometimes twisted by the elements; with its light-fingered branches, all colours from ox-blood to deepest burgundy; with its delicate freckling of small leaves that shiver in the breeze; with its bark, sometimes shining , paper-white, sometimes lichen-bearded, often peeling and curling to reveal a more solid core.

"Then there is the undergrowth, the under forest, the all-concealing eiderdown of bracken, from its earliest green shoots pushing through the debris and detritus of winter, curling and unfurling its fiddle heads as it spreads its arms, touching and overlapping, its patterns ever diminishing as its detail reveals itself to me, down to the finest frond.

"As the year marches on, so too does the bracken change, from young vibrant and forcing up toward maturity and strength, then beautifully lessening its hold, softening its stance, beginning to curl again as the colour changes from green to yellow, cinnamon, sepia, ochre, burnt sienna, returning to the earth in a blaze, stems as yellow as a cockerel’s legs.

"When painting the deer, once again I am attempting to capture the essence, like neolithic man painting the subject of his hunt. It is how I see the deer, never up close, never close enough for scrutiny, but there, ears alert to danger, watchful, wary. They bestow a little magic on the forest by their presence.

"I use watercolour because I find it endlessly adaptable. With it I can show the thin and watery light that filters through the trees; equally I can build it up, layer upon layer to produce intense and saturated colour. I may wish to use it in a soft wash which I later cut through with water to reveal the detail, or I may apply it with a flat blade, dragging and scrumbling it across the surface of the paper. Sometimes I will use masking fluid to draw, and rollers to apply wet colour . The experimental aspects of my work characterise the resulting images. The image is the ultimate aim of my painting, therefore the techniques I use, though not strictly in the watercolour tradition, justify the end."

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