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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sheila Mullen- Painting the Scottish Dreamtime

Sheila Mullen and her paintings

Exhibition of Paintings by Sheila Mullen
Opens Saturday 7 December 2013
Workshop Gallery, 183 King Street, Castle Douglas
01556 504234

Born in Glasgow in 1942 where she later studied at the Glasgow School of Art, for the past 35 years Sheila Mullen has lived and painted near the Kinnel Water in Annandale. Sheila’s early work as a landscape painter has recently been recalled by daughter Katy -

She was never like some genteel ‘lady artist’ with fine brushes and watercolour-paper, sitting prettily admiring ‘the view’. She would strap a massive canvas to her old-fashioned bicycle and an old army bag full of oil paints, turps and big brushes, reach the wildest and truest corner she could, find a final secret magical place, set up her tools and just sit. She told me that after a while of stillness, the life began to forget she was human, the wood would gradually begin to stir – even investigate her.

Then, 13 years ago, Sheila almost lost her life after falling from a roof. For several months the resulting injuries threatened to end her artistic career. Fortunately Sheila managed to recover, but the experience transformed her approach to painting. As she later said  ‘I found the courage to do frightening things in paint.’

For inspiration Sheila now turned to the Border Ballads and to the poetry of Robert Burns, James Hogg and Hugh MacDairmid. Sheila's paintings can be seen on her website.

The Battle of Otterburn

It fell about the Lammas tide,
When the muir-men win their hay,
The doughty Douglas bound him to ride
Into England, to drive a prey....

 "But I have dream'd a dreary dream,
Beyond the Isle of Skye;
I saw a dead man win a fight,
And I think that man was I."

The Battle of Otterburn was fought in August 1388 and although James Douglas, the 2nd earl of Douglas died in the battle, his Scottish Borders won against their English rivals. The main victor of the fight was Archibald the Grim, Lord of Galloway who became the 3rd earl of Douglas. From his castle at Threave, near Castle Douglas, Archibald  now had more power in southern Scotland than King Robert III.
Threave Castle

In 2010, Ann Matheson’s book ‘The Bairns o Adam’ illuminated Sheila’s powerful vision by bringing  together a collection of Sheila’s paintings with the ballads and poems which had inspired them. But as Ann explained, ‘The paintings are almost abstract, they have to be ‘read’, and each reading brings a fresh discovery of the painters imaginative and emotional insight.’ However, given the physical scale and presence of the paintings themselves, to move from reading to writing the paintings is all but impossible. One has to experience at first hand the intensity of this artist's penetrating gaze which renders even darkness visible.
The Graveyard

Sheila Mullen in her studio.

About the Workshop Gallery- Artists and Craftsmen

Photograph of W & T Stewart staff circa 1912

Ever since the ‘Glasgow Boys’ discovered Kirkcudbright in the 1880s, there has been a strong connection between artists and Dumfries and Galloway. Today the region is home to hundreds of artists and the ‘cultural economy’ is recognised as an increasingly dynamic part of this quintessentially rural region of Scotland.

The Workshop Gallery in Castle Douglas is a new and unique addition to the region’s artistic infrastructure. Opened in 2012, the Workshop Gallery is attached to A.D. Livingston and Sons furniture restoring and making workshop. The skills of cabinet making and upholstery practiced by Ian and Kenny Livingston are part of a living tradition of local craftsmanship which can be traced back 170 years.

William Stewart’s apprentice book

In April 1844, William Stewart began working as an apprentice for a Newton Stewart based firm of cabinet makers and upholsterers. After serving his apprenticeship, William moved to Castle Douglas where he and his brother Thomas founded the firm of W & T Stewart. In 1912, James Livingston joined the firm as an apprentice, becoming a partner in 1929. In 1940, James’ son Alec began his apprenticeship at W & T Stewart before becoming a partner himself in due course. In 1981, after W & T Stewart ceased trading, Alec set up A.D. Livingston and Sons with his sons Ian and Kenny.

Kenny 's daughter Charlotte in A.D. Livingston and Sons workshop

Recently, after opening an adjacent shop to display the furniture they sell, the showroom space in Ian and Kenny’s workshop became redundant. In November 2012, after discussions with the Galloway Photographers Collective, the Workshop Gallery was created in the redundant space with the aim of providing a bridge between the work and worlds of artists and artisans.

The Workshop Gallery 

Entrance to Workshop and Workshop Gallery


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