Nature and “cryptic” art – it’s there, you just have to see it

Artist Anne Gilchrist’s work concentrates entirely on the natural world. Her work in Scottish woodlands takes time to meditate on our relationship with nature. With guided walks she directs her audience to find art generated by its immediate environment and makes the experience of finding them an interactive journey of discovery. Here she describes her way of working.

A piece from One Tree.

A piece from One Tree.

The way I approach each work takes time – months, sometimes years. I need to have a relationship with a place, get to know it really well, let it become part of my life. I am drawn to oak woodlands, the quieter the better!

My “cryptic” pieces are panels painted to blend in to their immediate surroundings. I juggle a fine line between representation and abstraction, keeping in mind the camouflage of moths, lizards, and other creatures. I love the idea of one of my pieces hiding in plain sight, leaving it for my audience to notice. I think this is a true reflection of how we relate to nature all around us. It is there, we just have to see it.

My Way through Birky Bank represents a personal route through a small woodland in Midlothian which traces a path that follows deer and badger ways. I have taken this way for years, in a place I have known for decades. Along the route I painted small “cryptic” pieces that sit un-noticed in situ which, when taken out and placed in a gallery, describe visually my internal map-journey.

I spend long hours in one spot and come back to the same place time and time again. Looking at one patch of lichened bark day after day gives me insight as to how things change – or not – as the year turns. Coming back to that same patch three years later gives me a true sense of knowing, also of belonging. Working in this way also gives me a privileged invisibility: woodland hares dash around me as they pursue each other, too wrapped up in their drama to notice me; travelling flocks of winter redpolls hop past me as they forage; the fox sits upright at the den for a while after emerging, its back to me, surveying the evening; roe deer wander past, browsing on young shoots…..

The Oak Year. Panel 16.

The Oak Year. Panel 16.

Other work includes The Oak Year, a large work comprising 24 panels 5ft x 4ft all covered in painted oak leaves. Each is a portrait of a real specimen from an oak wood on the shore of Loch Tay. I painted through an entire year – brown winter leaves give way to the bright oranges and acidic greens of spring, through to the dark greens of high summer, the burst of autumn colour and back again to brown.

At Vogrie - Gean.

At Vogrie – Gean.

I’ve been producing work all summer at Vogrie Country Park in Midlothian which will all be displayed at Vogrie – both inside the house and out in the grounds – in October and November. This includes a 14-piece “cryptic” depiction of the barks of native trees at Vogrie; painted panels of cherry (gean) blossom set into autumn branches, reflecting on the changing seasons and the circle of life; and my A-dressing the Ash, a work that sets hundreds of gilded ash keys into the bark of the tree, reflecting on the ash die-back problem we are facing today.

What next? When all the hurly-burly at Vogrie is done I am going to disappear back into my natural habitat, the oak woodlands of Midlothian and the West of Scotland, and continue…

You can see more of Anne’s work on her website:

Anne will be conducting guided walks in Vogrie through October and November, and as part of Midlothian Science Festival (8 – 22 October).  To enquire/book contact

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