Throughout Year of Natural Scotland we have been fortunate to have the noted artist Derek Robertson working as our ‘Artist in Residence’ at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. Here he reflects on a remarkable year.
As the year comes to a close I am reflecting on the work I have carried out as artist in residence at Tentsmuir as part of Year of Natural Scotland 2013. It has been a hugely enjoyable project for me and an opportunity to work in a truly inspirational place.
The year has seen me produce an array of paintings and studies, build a dedicated website for the project, set up two virtual art trails (where on-site signs link to website pages of paintings and video footage of the reserve’s wildlife) as well as outreach projects including a huge, interactive mural at the Family Fun Day and clay sculpting of squirrels at the Red Squirrel Day.
I have also given over 30 talks this year featuring the residency with special exhibitions at Scottish Natural Heritage’s Battleby office, Pittenweem, and Tayport. Work from the project has been shown in venues in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Devon and the USA. Dundee University has requested some of the work for their permanent art collection.
A project studying the wildlife in the dune systems resulted in a hand-bound artist-book production (which will be displayed in shows in Spain and the USA next year) and the sketches produced through the year have been turned into a calendar for 2015 (I missed the publication date for 2014!).
A really challenging and exciting idea developed through the year to find ways of bringing together scientists, reserve managers, artists and other creative practitioners to collaborate on presentations and new creative work. We had a series of get-togethers at the reserve which led to collaborations between ornithologists, lepidopterists, geologists, biologists, artists, dancers, film-makers poets, storytellers and musicians.
I produced a series of work inspired by Professor Rob Duck and his studies of the shifting landscape, by the work of Dr Bernie McConnell on his studies of seals and by the poems of Jim Stewart, writer in residence at Tentsmuir. In October, this led to a series of presentations and performances at Kinshaldy which were a great success.
In all, the residency has led to some really good press and media coverage for the reserve with features on Radio Tay, Real Radio, Radio Scotland, STV News, BBC Scotland News, national coverage on BBC Countryfile and BBC News Online as well as regular reports in all the local press as well as reviews in journals and blog sites around the world.
So, what next? Although the project is notionally coming to a close, I still have a few projects that I would like to work up from studies done at the reserve, including large paintings about bats and moths. I am also working on a big, sculptural painting that involves glass, sand and charcoal and which is currently in progress.
At the moment I have over 20 talks booked next year which will be about the Tentsmuir artist residency and I have an exhibition confirmed at Dundee University in October 2014 which will be about the collaborative art-science projects and I am currently speaking to other venues about planning exhibitions of this material – including the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh who have commissioned the storyteller Lea Taylor to produce a series of story presentations incorporating the collaboration we did together at Tentsmuir along with music and projected images of my paintings and sketches.
It has been a really fantastic year and I feel incredibly privileged to have had this opportunity. I owe a debt of gratitude to Tom Cunningham who has been such a great advocate for my work and to Caroline Gallacher and indeed all at SNH, as well as those at Forestry Commission for all their help and support. Lastly, I have met many people at Tentsmuir, and at the various talks and exhibitions I have hosted, who know and love the reserve. I would like to thank all of you for coming up to me, saying hello and talking about the reserve and my artwork. It has been inspirational to find how very highly valued the reserve is by those who know and visit it – sometimes by people who have only been there just once before. It is a beautiful and valued treasure to the local communities and to the people of Scotland more widely and I have been honoured to celebrate that.
Derek Robertson BA RSW SSA SAA