Fortunately, I caught a glimpse of The Scotsman Magazine on Saturday 16th May otherwise I might have missed Ron Sandford’s current on-line exhibition at the Fine Art Society, Edinburgh. Duncan Macmillan acknowledged this exhibition and the ingenious full virtual experience in situ which positions the viewer from within the gallery space as if there. On viewing 114oE/1oW Hong Kong to Shetland I was caught up with both the quality of the art and the viewing experience, of moving around the gallery with relative ease, stopping in front of each of the pictures to browse and reading the labels before moving on. Given lockdown I relished the opportunity to engage in such a process as if I’m out and about again, able to view art and enjoy the process of doing so.
This show is autobiographical, it tracks the artists experience of living on Lamma, a small island off Hong Kong. The artist’s work very much reflects such an environment in which he inhabited for six years. Thereafter Ron Sandford moved to Yell in Shetland whereby his experiencing on this island has also been captured in this exhibition. His art has a graphic quality whereby there is a focus on defining line. The artists use of mixed media on paper is beautifully constructed, so distinctive and thoroughly thought out pieces which were a pleasure to view. Given my love of geology I was immediately drawn to his decorative and graphic drawings of geological strata, of his use of black pen, ink, pencil and watercolour to create carefully observed studies which also yield a poetic quality in the use of line.
Although not all the pictures of cliffs and rocks were included within this specific exhibition as they represented an earlier geology series I researched further and located them on-line. I have been attracted to them by their graphic design quality and use of colour given my own preferred use of such colourways, black pen and line. The colour of the rock and use of black and black line coupled with what is left out, of the contrasts with the white paper and black line without colour added has influenced my own sketching, drawing and painting.
His series concerning Boatie Hoose and the Cullivoe Gallery Shed are complex and expertly drawn given the artists experience at Glasgow School of Art and then at the Royal College where he studied graphics. His focus on Shetland beyond the geology series focused around the key sites on the island, of its history and the retelling of it through imagery. While the Cullivoe Gallery Shed 1 seems intrinsically linked to festivities on the island especially Cullivoe Up Helly which can be traced back to its origins in 1956 when an old boat was burned in Sellafirth . The Boatie Hoose appears to be linked to the wooden lifeboat from the Peterhead-registered steam drifter Ugie Brae which saved the lives of ten fishermen – and a dog when one of the Scottish fishing vessels was sunk in an attack by the German submarine U-38, 35 miles off the Skerries in 1915. The decaying historic vessel was given a new lease of life and has been fully restored by local boat builders at the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick.
From the years in Lamma Ron Sandford’s graphic style seems to have been influenced by the visual illustrations within Chinese paintings as many of his pictures look oriental. The artists drawings are precise and naturally suit architecture, complexity and difficulty which he handles with significant skill and unique technique honed over many years.