This week, we are bringing a little stillness and calm – a positive distraction from the world in such turmoil just now. We are chatting with an artist who, through her fascination with the Scottish Borders landscape in general and trees in particular, manages time after time to create beautiful and contemplative moments of Stillness and Light.
So, we hope you enjoy this brief encounter, exploring
Stillness and Light with Claire Beattie
Claire, Hi, I’m starting to really missing seeing you and all of our artists, but hope you are well and keeping safe. Just to inform our friends out there, could you say a few words about yourself? I grew up in Spey Bay, in Moray, in the North East of Scotland and I have wanted to be an artist ever since I won the inaugural Glenfiddich Distillery art prize for schools when I was 14. I had amazing art teachers at school who were hugely supportive of me and gave me my own studio space in S6 to get ready for my art school application. They really drummed into me the importance of creating a studio ‘practice’.
I studied Fine Art at Edinburgh University and the College of Art between 1992 and 1997, with time split evenly between history of art and studio work where I was taught by artists Victoria Crowe, Glen Onwin and Alan Johnston. I specialised in painting and drawing and developed a minimal style of working influenced by my tutors, who really taught me to pay attention to the act of making a work and to use materials flawlessly. My degree show used sculpture and photography and text and, although my work is now wholly based in quite representational painting, the basis for my whole way of seeing the world and honing my aesthetic was formed then.
Since graduating, I worked in various arts organisations in Edinburgh and, when the kids were very small and at nursery, I seized the chance to establish my studio practice: in 2009, I had work accepted for both the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and the Royal Scottish Academy. All of the work sold that year, which was a real boost, and I gained gallery representation with Cameron Contemporary Art based in Brighton and London and with whom I have had 4 successful solo shows including one at the Chelsea Arts Club. I continue to show with them and other galleries across the UK, including the White Fox Gallery here in the Scottish Borders and work from my studio at my home in Duns in the Scottish Borders.
Apart from the time you spend as a professional artist, do you also have other occupations, such as part time lecturer/tutor? Yes, I work locally for Live Borders Museums and Galleries as the Education and Outreach officer on a part time basis and I work on a freelance basis as a creative art educator with the National Galleries of Scotland learning and engagement team, working with school groups and adults exploring the exhibitions and collections. I also teach occasionally at Allanbank Arts here in Berwickshire
Where do you work? Do you have a studio? Tell us a little about this special place. My studio is accessed from my house and up a tiny wooden staircase above the garage next door. It used to be a crumbling damp place with holes in the floor but it’s now a light and airy white room renovated by my husband Andy. I have a big easel in there which is what I use on a daily basis but I also have lots of wall space to hang canvases on. I like to have lots on the go at one time. And it’s so brilliant to have the studio at home as I like to work in the evenings.
How has the lockdown affected your time in the studio? I found lockdown quite hard at first and was a bit glued to the news; and all of my upcoming exhibitions have been cancelled as well as all immediate freelance education work. I also have three teenage children who have all suffered huge disruption to their daily school routine. The two eldest have also had their exams cancelled so the first part of lockdown was spent dealing with all of this news and working out what life was going to be like. Now that we have settled into it as well as we can, I have managed to get back into the studio but it has required discipline! Although I spend days alone very frequently when working, it is very different when you know the house is full of people!
Describe a “typical” approach to your work practice I work in quite a repetitive way in terms of subject matter. Lots of my paintings feature solitary trees but the spaces in which these trees inhabit take time to build up. I have lots of different surfaces on the go and build these up over time, with colour and mark making, before I decide on the composition. I don’t use sketchbooks at all in work preparation, although I did as a student. I do however take huge amounts of photographs of the same places in different seasons and in different lights, and use these to inform my work. I also usually walk daily in the landscapes I paint before working, which always helps. What I try to strive for, in each painting, is a moment of stillness and focus when all the elements of the piece are balanced and fuse together and for each piece to have a quiet resonance and invite contemplation.
Are you a “must have total silence” kind of creative person, or do you listen to music whilst working? What is your fave music you like to work to? It varies according to mood. If I am really working hard to resolve a piece that is being stubborn, and I am up against a deadline, I need to have total quiet but usually I listen to news, podcasts or quite loud fast music. I like listening to BBC 6 Music, or Radio 1 too so that I can keep up with new music. At the moment I am listening to an album called Go Farther in Lightness by Australian indie band Gang of Youths on constant repeat and to Brittany Howard, a singer who you may know from the band Alabama Shakes and whom I saw live in Glasgow in February. I also love the band Django Django – good music to paint to if all is going well!
What did you listen to, last? ‘Remember Me’ by dance artist Blue Boy. Shaun Keaveney played it on the Golden Hour on his show on 6 Music and it took me back to the 90’s!
What is the main subject of your inspiration? The landscape that surrounds me in the Scottish Borders, right on my doorstep, is a constant source of inspiration and walks there daily with my dog is all the inspiration I need.
What medium and techniques do you use to translate your creative ideas? Tell us a little about your creative process. I use oil paint pretty much exclusively. I adore it, and have spent so long working with it now, I don’t think I could use anything else. I start off with large washes of colour and build up from there. I like to use a very fine grain canvas and apply paint in thin layers so that the surface stays very smooth but has huge amounts of depth.
Looking at the history of art in the Western World at least, where would you place yourself, spirit and style wise? That is a huge question. I have no idea! My work is representative but has abstract qualities. It is definitely influenced by 20th century painters.
Some people have ‘studio pets’. Do you have one? What’s their ‘contribution’ to your creativity? I have a beautiful Italian greyhound, called Venus, who makes me smile every day. She is beautiful to look at and has a very sweet tooth… so you need to lock up the chocolate! She likes to sit on your lap and snuggle in so if you’re having a bad day she is the perfect therapy.
What did you do at first to try and adjust to this new ‘lockdown’ situation? Drank quite a lot of red wine whilst constantly watching the news.
What is your favourite pastime? Has the pandemic impacted on your ability to enjoy this? I enjoy painting the most so still doing that. In fact, after a few weeks of news watching, I am quite immersed in my studio again. .
Can you while away the hours with a “good book”? or do you need to do something more active. Any particular title you would recommend as a “must read once in a lifetime”? I love reading but can only truly get stuck into a book when I’m on holiday and have nothing else to do. I love the novels of Maggie O Farrell and I’m looking forward to reading her new book, Hamnet, when I get the chance.
What about films? What is your favourite film of all? This is too hard! I LOVE films and my favourites change all the time. The last film I watched was Ladybird with Saoirse Ronan and I loved that film. I am a massive Star Wars fan and I also love huge epics like The English Patient. I particularly like a film, from a few years back, directed by Scottish director John Maclean called Slow West – a western set in the most amazing landscapes and which was shot in Achiltibuie and in Colorado.
Tell us of one of the most beautiful or happy moments in your life? Having my 3 children Archie, Martha and Patrick. They are the best. And also getting married to Andy. That was a great day! We had a very fun wedding in the village hall, in the village I grew up in, and had a great ceildih!
What inspires you in life and in art? Colour. Always! My kids are always getting annoyed at me stopping the car to look at a colour in a field or photograph the sky, or the sea, or a cloud, or a tree… But to be honest I don’t think they really mind!
Who is up there in your esteem in terms of artistic excellence? What is/are your favourite artist(s)? Too many! But giants like Cy Twombly, Yves Klein, Mark Rothko and Monet. The American artist Sherrie Levine. And Scottish artists from Earl Haig to James Morrison, James Cowie and Victoria Crowe and Alison Watt. I also love Antony Gormley’s work and the work of Italian artist Giuseppe Penone whose work I have seen a few times now. And I love Sean Scully and Peter Doig and contemporary Scottish artist Katie Paterson. It’s a long list! Always getting longer.
Any pet hate? – we all have one, it’s OK to say it. Unmade beds, wet towels hanging everywhere, shoes lying everywhere! Basic messy behaviours of teenagers but I’ll miss it when it’s not there anymore.
As a painter, do you have a favourite colour? Naples Yellow and Kings Blue Light – they’re the colours I use all the time. Could not paint without them. Combined they can produce a sublime eau de nil.
It has been said that creatives are often great cooks as they know how to balance food colours, flavours, texture to create that perfect tastebuds experience, do you like cooking? What is your signature dish? I love cooking, but cook every day for the family, so can sometimes get pretty fed up with cooking, especially in this lockdown. But I have a big collection of cookbooks for much needed inspiration which I like dipping in and out of. I do however make an amazing pizza, a skill which I have honed over the past 20 years. I would like a pizza oven and have bought Andy a book on how to build one, but he hasn’t done this yet!
What are you exploring at the moment, artistically speaking? I am looking at the coastline around Holy Island and making some new paintings based on this area. I like painting the sea but don’t do it often. I am also making a series of works sold online on Instagram as part of the Artist Support Pledge a response to the coronavirus crisis where when you reach a certain amount of sales you pledge to buy another artists work. I have enjoyed the process and sold a few paintings so it’s been great.
What makes you laugh/cry? My family makes me laugh (and sometimes cry!) and the news make me cry quite often. The world is in a terrible state.
What is your favourite tipple? Sauvignon Blanc. Quite fond of a Bellini too!
What is your “naughty but nice” comfort? Amaretto truffles from Luca’s in Musselburgh.
If you could travel, where would you go? I would love to drive across the USA in a convertible and stay in motels with neon lights, eat steak and drink beer. One day!
Finally, going forward, what would you hope we could learn as society/humans from this pandemic. What is your message to the world? I’m not sure I feel hugely positive about it all right now but I think we need to be more tolerant and collaborative as humans on the one planet. BE KIND.
THANK YOU so much CLAIRE for sharing these thoughts with us. You have been most informative, inspiring – and fun! – I hope our readers would have enjoyed listening to you. I, for myself, loved hearing more about you, your love, wishes and views as it helped reveal the person behind each of your absolutely beautiful paintings. Thank you.
If you want to know more about the paintings shown in this email, or to simply read more about CLAIRE, please CLICK HERE
And of course, feel free to send us any comments/questions at CONTACT US Thank you for reading and please do stay safe!
ps.: Our next episode of THE FULL PICTURE will be published on 20th May 2020