Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton : Stromata

18th June until 7th August

Stromata was a collection of works created by the artist Alexander Hamilton for a touring exhibition coordinated by The Highland Council. It is a response to the power of nature, drawing from the artist’s engagement with particular sites over the past 40 years. The resulting imagery reflects Hamilton’s deep interest in plants and working with nature. The works were created in locations ranging from Stroma in the Pentland Firth, Botanical Gardens in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Glenfinlas in the Trossachs and Brantwood in the Lake District.

For this exhibition Hamilton took the opportunity to try and locate the site of the wild fernery created by Robert Dick at Reay in Caithness in 1855, providing a focus for new work.

Alexander Hamilton grew up in Caithness. Born in 1950 he studied drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art, before going on to spend six months recording the plants on the uninhabited island of Stroma. There he created his first ‘photogram’ images – and began a 40-year career exploring the connections between plants and landscape.

For over three decades, Hamilton’s work has been centred on an exploration of his connections with plants and landscape. His artistic practice broadly could be described as investigating established systems of knowledge and information. He is particularly interested in plant research with a focus on plant cultivation, breeding and monitoring.

The exhibition ran from 18th June – 7th August and was made possible through the support of The Highland Council, The Paul Hamlyn Foundation and European Community Highland LEADER 2007-2013 Programme.

Robert Dick

Arriving in Thurso in 1830 (died 1863) from Clackmannan at the age of 20 to work as a baker in the small market town, Dick developed his instinctive interest in the natural world around him to the point where he could advise the greatest men of the day on botany and geology. In September 1858, Sir Roderick Murchison, president of the Royal Geological Society made a presentation in Leeds to the British Association in which he lauded the achievement of the self-taught Thurso researcher:

‘I found, to my humiliation, that this baker knew infinitely more of botanical science – ay, ten times more – than I did’.

Stromata– has meaning on a number of levels n. pl. stro·ma·ta (-m-t)

The connective tissue framework of an organ, gland, or other structure, as distinguished from the tissues performing the special function of the organ or part.

“Stromata” (Greek for “miscellany”) or Stromateis, “patchwork,” seemed like an apt name for this grouping of works from different periods -why everything connects and disconnects. My starting point at Stroma, the influence of Robert Dick and my return to Caithness after a 30 year exploration of plants and landscape.

Also –Stroma- where Hamilton spent 6 months in 1973

Stroma is an island on the northern coast of the Scottish mainland. It is the more southerly of the two islands situated in the Pentland Firth between the Orkney Islands and Caithness. As such it is part of Caithness (now within the Highland council area), while its neighbour Swona, to the north, is part of the Orkney Islands. The name originated from the Norse straum-øy meaning “island in the stream” or “current”.

Artist Statement by Alexander Hamilton

‘Photograms, the pictorial result of the cyanotype process, are a major element of my artistic output. I am drawn to this technique because of its capacity to create unique images, each made by the plant’s natural materials. The cyanotype process requires one to work directly with an object, usually a plant, which is placed onto a prepared sheet of watercolour paper. The image is drawn out of the plant through the light from the sun, and permanently fixed by the simple process of being washed in water – hence the term ‘camera-less photography’. The flower petals leave a trace, a unique deposit, on the paper. The final result contains the essence of each plant, displayed in rich tones of blue, creating a contemplative work of art.’