JULIET KNIGHT reports on the Spring
Exhibition at Calgary Bay, part of the ongoing Calgary Art and Nature
CALGARY BAY on the Isle of Mull – a
breathtaking beauty spot that draws visitors from all over the world. In
1999 resident artist Matthew Reade, aided by a team of enthusiastic
helpers, undertook the regeneration of a stretch of woodland that reaches
from his home down to the bay.
He began by planting trees, and then went on to
commission a number of artworks to ‘be discovered’ within the woods. The
artworks are discreet – almost hidden – and the aim is that, in looking
for them, you observe the woods more closely.
There are twenty works altogether, almost all by local artists, and the
project has been entirely funded on a local level, by donations from
artists and the public, proceeds from art courses, and collaboration with
Tobermory’s art centre, An Tobar.
It is rare in these times to find an art project that has been conceived
entirely for its own sake, and there is something very special about
discovering these works by oneself, as part of this untamed, intimate
Unlike other sculpture parks, which often feel ‘tended’, the woodland is
wild and has been left to its own devices. The artworks age organically
within it, and both art and nature are viewed afresh, each enriched by the
presence of the other.
The Spring Exhibition is the latest development in the Calgary Art in
Nature project, and took place in the small gallery at Calgary adjacent to
Reade’s workshop. It featured his own work as well as that of two other
local artists, Andrew Mortley and Michael Warner. All three are working
with natural forms, but using completely different media and techniques.
Andrew Mortley is best known for his paintings, though he also works as a
sculptor. He has long had a passion for birds and wildlife, and these
paintings – mainly of sea birds – are clearly the work of someone who has
spent a great deal of time observing nature. He never allows the detail to
dominate, however, and the paintings are informal and expressive in style.
He works in oil on a variety of surfaces including linen, paper, canvas
and stainless steel. The technique of painting on steel evolved from
making steel sculptures, which then led to experimenting with it as a
paint surface. The presentation of the works is unusual, as they are
unframed, and stand out several inches from the wall. The lack of any kind
of frame or border contributes to their sense of informality, and the
shadow created around them gives a three-dimensional, almost sculptural
Matthew Reade’s works are large-scale carvings in wood featuring seaside
forms such as shells, seaweed, sand and stones. The titles of the works –
‘String of Pebbles’, ‘Mussel Rock’, ‘Sand Castle’ – are evocative, and
indeed these works conjure up the minute, almost obsessive observation of
The wood is all sourced from around his home at Calgary, mainly taken from
a single wind blown ash he cut up a year ago. Creating panels around two
inches in depth, he carves into them using chisels, chainsaws and any
other tool that comes to hand, then scorches the panels to bring out the
In some pieces he uses white paint, partly rubbed off with steel wool to
give the effect of liming. Nothing is added – all forms are carved, and
any natural imperfections in the wood are maintained as part of the
finished piece. The forms seem to emerge from the wood, almost as if they
had grown there rather than been carved out, giving a satisfying, tactile
Michael Warner is a potter who has been working on the island for five
years. His studio is at Glengorm, in the north of Mull, and he makes work
that is chunky and organic in feel. He uses natural colours such as
greyish greens, taupes and browns in these pieces, which range from small
sets of bowls to large pots.
He deliberately retains any irregularities of size or shape, with the
titles (‘Square-ish Bowls’, ‘Big Wobbly Pot’) showing that he doesn’t like
them to be too highly finished. Sometimes he incorporates found materials,
such as slate lids for some of his large storage jars. On one large brown
pot, titled ‘Glengorm Rain’, he has added rough white brushstrokes that
conjure up all too effectively Mull’s slanting, relentless winter rain.
Reade and Mortley have worked together in the workshop at Calgary for the
past eleven years, and clearly inspire each other to experiment with new
forms and techniques. They plan in the longer term to extend Calgary Art
in Nature to create a dedicated gallery space where they will show their
own and others’ work.
The exhibition and associated work at Calgary is yet another demonstration
of the wealth of artistic talent that currently exists on the Isle of Mull
– something picked up on by Channel Four television, when they recently
selected Mull as one of the six chosen sites for their ‘Big Art Project’.
Whether that will add to the reputation of Mull for its creativity remains
to be seen – either way, its artistic credentials are already firmly
© Juliet Knight, 2006