West Is Best (part 2)

Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager reports on her ten-day research residency at Cove Park, on the Rosneath Peninsula, Argyll & Bute, Scottish west coast.

The residency was supported by the Arts Council of Wales.

PART 2 (of 2)

Friday 13th November 2015

Garelochhead to Arbroath

I wake to the first snow on the mountains this morning. The sun illuminates the varying colours and tones of the mountainside as purple-black clouds gather behind the summit. A pale rainbow cascades to the surface of the loch. The threatening clouds advance. Everything vanishes in mist.

I take an early train heading to the east coast to visit Hospitalfield, Arbroath, a former hospital, which was remodeled in 1843 by artist Patrick Allan and his wife Elizabeth Fraser to create an early Arts & Crafts building. The Allan-Frasers’ left their estates and collections in trust to support artists and arts education. In the 1900s Hospitalfield opened as a residential art school and became a place of study for Scotland’s modernist painters including James Cowie, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde and Joan Eardley.

Hospitalfield now curates a contemporary programme of events and artist residencies supporting practitioners to develop new work. The site includes a dark room and etching workshop and purpose built studios. The building feels very alive, the resident artists are coming and going, working in the Victorian library and drawing room as well as the studios.  The gallery’s current exhibition Continuum is a selection of twentieth century and contemporary work from artists who have lived and studied at Hospitalfield.

I meet some of the resident artists in their studios, who all express an appreciation of the time and space available to them to reflect on their practice and in some cases to improvise and rely on their own resources beyond their usual surroundings. The current self-funded residency programme is ‘interdisciplinary’ so practitioners with various backgrounds and interests are working at Hospitalfield together. Although the residencies are self-funded they’re selected so it feels like a real opportunity for the artists to be here. There is a communal feeling to the place with meals eaten together in the dining room.

There seems to be a healthy connection to local art students and colleges and links to Dundee’s lively arts scene, a thirty minute drive away (apparently a ‘hidden gem’ that will have to be included in a future jaunt to Scotland).

Arbroath to Edinburgh

I make the hour’s journey to Edinburgh and attend the preview of Another Minimalism: Art After California Light and Space at the Fruitmarket Gallery. It is a cold, wet night. Everyone is drinking the free gin on offer and we gather together, instinctively attracted to the luminescent pastel and candy colours of the light installations.

I meet senior curators, Lucy Askew and Julie-Ann Delaney from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The chat ranges in topics from northern soul all-nighters to the pros and cons of co-habitation, as well as some art stuff.

Julie-Ann coincidently introduces me to artist Bobby Niven, co-instigator of The Bothy Project, a brilliant initiative which I’ve been researching over the last month.

TBP is a network of small-scale, off-grid artist residency spaces in distinct locations around Scotland, including the Cairngorms National Park and the Isle of Eigg. The bothies are purpose built structures made in collaboration with artists, designers and architects to create a network of unique dwellings. TBP uses sustainable materials and building techniques to create designs that are purpose built for their locations. TBP was initiated by Bobby and architect Iain MacLeod, introducing the first residency bothy in 2011 with support from the Royal Scottish Academy. TBP now offers residencies through a supported and a self-funded programme.

I was unable to get to Sweeney’s Bothy on the Isle of Eigg because of the rough weather but Julie-Ann and Bobby suggest I visit the Pig Rock Bothy, situated in the grounds of Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. The gallery is supporting the project as a way of extending their activity beyond the formal exhibition spaces to develop more experimental and participatory work with artists and students.

After a sociable evening I cue up in the rain for a taxi to my hotel and make a call home.


Saturday 14th November

Edinburgh to Garelochhead

I wake to the news of the Paris terrorist attacks and swop breakfast for fresh air. I become contentedly lost among the lanes and crescents of the west end.

Visit the Pig Rock Bothy and the Modern Scottish Women exhibition at National Gallery.

Cannons blasting from Edinburgh’s castle walls.

The return journey west to Cove Park is fraught. Three of the most dreaded words in the English language have to be ‘Replacement Bus Service’. My connecting train is late. A kind driver takes pity on me and holds the bus. I do the ‘run of shame’ up the street and scramble aboard; either that or a three-hour wait in Dumbarton. I reflect on the practical difficulties of living/working rurally and again put myself in the place of any future artist-in-residence with PEAK.


Monday 16th November

My colleague, artist Morag Colquhoun visits CP while she is staying in Glasgow for the Engage conference. It’s such a pleasure to share notes (over a bottle of red wine) with a friend and peer about the residency experience. Morag has recently been involved in a residency in the Elan Valley, Powys, facilitated by a partnership between Arts Council of Wales and Dŵr Cyrmu Welsh Water. Working in a rural and/or isolated location can at times feel slightly threatening, physically draining and lonesome. Basic comforts need to be met but not necessarily the expected conveniences of modern life (wi-fi, tv, mobile) as these can be as much of a distraction as cold and damp. The requirements of a visiting artist working in a rural place may differ from an urban setting but that balance between a desire for connection with the need for solitude to make new work remains the same wherever an artist is located.


Tuesday 16th November 

Garelochhead to Abergavenny

The chap that’s been watching me out the corner of his eye since Garelochhead helps me with my suitcase at Glasgow Queen St and confidently escorts me to my connecting train at Central, dragging the weighty load of laundry and muddy boots behind him. George is a writer, previously for a left-wing political website, now children’s books. Most often he describes himself as unemployed, ‘you get asked fewer questions that way’.

Travelling again through the Scottish borders. Lake District covered in thick mist. A heron. A rabbit. Flooded fields beyond Carlisle.

I won’t miss the dark or the wind or the rain but I’ll miss waking up to that view across Loch Long and (unexpectedly) I will miss the deep silence.


Rebecca Spooner
November 2015