North from Sutherland | Ann Davidson
“I come from a Highland family and grew up in Dornoch, Tongue and, mostly, Helmsdale in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The Sutherland of those days seems to me like another world; it was and felt truly remote. Indeed, all the roads in this vast county other than the only trunk road were single track. Many bridges that we now take for granted had not been built. It felt like a great, pristine, undiscovered land. And, by and large, it was.
When I went to art school I painted Sutherland landscapes because I wanted to communicate their extreme remoteness, drama and purity. I was enthralled by Suilven which I drew a hundred times. My thesis was on life in Sutherland. There was no popular books then specifically about the county, so after college I came home to write one, which resulted only in a pile of journals. However, by this time I knew I would always paint Sutherland.
My abstracted landscapes are made using a form of collage I have invented. The method enables easy comparison between versions of a composition while ensuring that the final one is not lost when it is taken apart to be glued. It is a system of transference of information regarding how papers are juxtaposed, using adhesive tape and registration marks. As the method also enables judgements to be made from a distance, it allows me to ensure proportions are as I would like them to be. I usually try many combinations of collage pieces, sometimes hundreds, for a single image. This collection is almost ten years’ work.
For a long time I wondered what was beyond Sutherland. I wanted to visit lands that were more remote, more elemental and more sparsely populated: Sutherland, exaggerated. In 2002 I visited Iceland and in 2005 Greenland. I found that much of Iceland is indeed similar to Sutherland, with its inselbergs and odd shapes rising out of low land and the lack of tall vegetation to obscure vistas of those masses. The vegetation, mostly, looks just like that of the Scottish Highlands and there are fjords sililar to our sea lochs.
What I saw of Greenland, however, looked exactly like the cnoc and lochan areas of west Sutherland: a giant version of Assynt, with ice added. Perhaps this is unsurprising as Scotland and Greenland were once joined.
The diversity of the types of landscape in Iceland seemed infinite; Greenland, by contrast, is infinite variations of a theme. Both places have much too that is very different from Scotland: ice and, in the case of Iceland, volcanic and geothermal areas – with immense fields of black and of white.
I visited Illulissat in the Arctic – the town of the icebergs. The Illulissat Ice Fjord is a glacial ice-stream which flows from the Greenland ice-cap and calves into a fjord. It is the most productive glacier outside Antarctica and the mouth of the fjord was choked with icebergs of immense number, size and beauty.
I feel that, because of modern developments and global warming, my work has a retrospective angle. Much of Sutherland has lost its prristine look; glaciers in Iceland have been receding; ice in Greenland has beeb melting. In 2005 I saw, on the Greenland ice-cap, ovals of intense sapphire blue which were lakes of melt water. The Inuit told me that they get less snow than they used to.
This year my brother flew over to Greenland and saw that the blue ovals are about ten times as large, and that the choked icebergs have gone.”