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Skyclad exhibition at Gairloch Museum showcases the work of artist Fiona Mackenzie and her love affair with the natural world

By Margaret Chrystall

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Fiona Mackenzie.
Fiona Mackenzie.

A new exhibition opening opening today features work by an artist who has been based near Gairloch for over 14 years, her work inspired by the wilderness of the area.

Artist Fiona Mackenzie first became interested in the natural world on childhood holidays to the Gairloch area – those memories drawing her back.

Fiona says she likes to engage with the spirit of the place by walking, swimming in the sea, and sitting watching the dramatic and constantly changing light on the sea, and mountains.

She sketches directly from her surroundings, in paint, inks, or pencil, then sometimes develops those early beginnings into larger works in her studio.

Skyclad is the title of her new exhibition at Gairloch Museum.

Fiona explained: “The word Skyclad which can mean, naked, stark, unprotected, resonates with the countryside, sea and skies in Wester Ross.

“My intention with this collection of artwork is to show something behind the visible world, rather than a literal depiction. The artist John Constable wrote: 'The chief organ of sentiment in landscape art is the sky.'"

In the show Fiona has used mixed media including acrylics, oils, egg tempera, watercolour, ink, pencil, charcoal , and wood engraving .

Fiona describes the exhibition as featuring landscapes, bird studies, a stag, and skies that shift “from lowering storm to silver, or endless summer night”.

Fiona described a couple of the pictures in the show and the influences behind them.

Artist Fiona Mackenzie.
Artist Fiona Mackenzie.

“I used some ideas from Scottish Celtic tales. In The Gaelic Otherworld – a book by John Gregorson Campbell – he writes that the red deer herds belong to the faeries.

“One large painting called Otherworld is in indigo ink on canvas, depicting a stag coming down off the hill, his breath caught in the cold night air.

“I like working with the immediacy of ink sometimes on canvas, or on gesso board.

“One of my wood engraving prints is of a peewit.

“In Scottish Birds Culture And Tradition the author Robin Hull writes that in old myths Peewits call ‘Bewitched, bewitched!’ and are the spirits of the dead who cannot rest and have returned to haunt the earth.”

Fiona has also been inspired recently by a visit to Japan after which she was moved to work in line and wash inks, and which fired an enthusiasm for engraving.

Venus, mixed media.
Venus, mixed media.

In 2019 this interest led to Fiona receiving a grant from The Rawlinson Trust through The Wood Engraving Society thanks to the support of The Highland Print Studio.

Fiona said: “I hope l have managed to share something of the metaphysical within these works. It’s my response to staring at skies and seas, and I suppose the sheer wonder of the beauty of it all.”

Exhibition Skyclad opens at Gairloch Museum on Friday (July 1) between 7-8pm. More info: fionamackenzieart.co.uk

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