Preview – Friday 23 September 7pm. All welcome, refreshments provided.
The exhibition includes a biographical exhibition in Gallery 1 upstairs featuring Katharine’s poetry, illustrative and early work, plus friends’ and colleagues reminiscences of Katharine’s life.
“The sea makes a tired sound
That’s always stopping though it never stops” (Fetching Cows by Norman MacCaig).
I have long associated these lines with the works of Katharine Barr.Something of the same ability to encapsulate both familiarity and timelessness in a fresh observation that is marvellous in its capability to connect with the reader/viewer. There is too, the vivid succinctness, the seemingly effortless way of expressing a vision of the apparently everyday in ways that make us look anew at our surroundings. Integral to that is considerable technical accomplishment which underpins and suffuses the artistic expression.
Katharine was predominantly a painter of landscape but not entirely;her subject-matter was predominantly North Uist, but not entirely. She loved North Uist and she particularly loved the view from her sitting room, out over to Kirkibost and Baleshare which she painted repeatedly, each time bringing a fresh gaze to this much loved scene. In these views from Claddach Kirkibost, can be identified the very elements which attracted Katharine to North Uist in the first place: the vast skies, changeless in their dominion over the land, yet host to a spectrum of conditions whose very variability she found endlessly inspiring. The changing weather could provide billowing clouds or subtle gradations of tone in a more settled sky. Katharine adapted her painting technique in response: the former elicited vigorous and obvious brushstrokes; the latter drenchingly-wet layers of water colour, delicate tones seeping into one another. She used both water colour and gouache, appropriating the latter to invoke a ‘creamier’ weightier texture that contrasted with the delicacy and lightness of the former.
But it was as the source of light that Katharine found the skies enthralling. She talked often of the magical quality of the light in North Uist and her paintings are testimony to her lifelong quest to record her observations. Light could be luminous, bestowing a clarity of definition on the land; it could be lowering, indicating a dour day; it could reflect the time of day suffusing pale lemons or rich vermilions through the landscape. Allied to her love of light was its relationship with colour: Katharine’s colours were not the blazing tones employed by so many of her Scottish contemporaries. She had a very distinctive palette; subtle and responsive to the very specific light conditions and subject-matter, it was nevertheless exciting and thought-provoking.
Katharine was a very modest person with little to be modest about, for hers was a remarkable talent. She has left us with a wonderful legacy, a body of work which,inspired by love and admiration for a special place, helps us appreciate that which, all too often, we might take for granted.
But she bequeathed so much more: in common with many whose lives she touched as teacher/colleague or friend, I think of her when a sudden shaft of light splits the sky, or the meadowsweet froths out of a sunken ditch, or the late afternoon light catches a lichen-splattered rock, for Katharine never lost her sense of wonder at these familiar and timeless aspects of our very particular environment. Her work is testament to that.
By Anne Reid, Cloud, Sea & Shore Curator.