An art and science collaboration in Seattle

As you will know if you’ve been following my blogs over the last year or so, I’ve been starting to experiment with the idea of using sound with my large drawings and paintings. The original idea developed as a result of further deterioration in my sight over the last five years and although so far, this gradual deterioration hasn’t affected my ability to paint too much, I am aware that there may be a point sometime down the line where my work becomes more and more minimal. So then, I’ve started thinking about how I might continue working as a professional artist if this happens. My original plans had always been to return to making sculpture in a purely tactile way……I trained and worked as a sculptor right up until my sight started to fail back in 1990. I decided instead, however, to see if it is possible to create works that combine drawings or paintings with sound ….with the sound helping to convey the subject depicted in the two dimensional work.

I first mentioned this to Graham, the then sound engineer working at the Harbour Arts Centre, back in December 2014 when I was working there creating my large Glen Rosa drawing. He was very keen on the idea and lent me the use of one of his sound recorders. Since then, I’ve been taking the recorder out with me on our walks into the hills and have just been experimenting with it.

abstract landscape painting

Beinn Dubh drawing (Section 2)

This new work is progressing slowly and I have in the last few months been starting to work on my first drawing / sound project. I want to create a large multi section drawing based on Beinn Dubh in the Luss Hills. This wee hill offers great views and a range of different terrain. Although generally grass covered, the shortish climb from the village of Luss to the cairn marking the top at around 650m, takes you over or past a variety of ground. In places lower down, the path is stony and eroded and picks its way under broad leaf trees and then out onto open bracken covered hillside. Higher up, a level section is in places extremely boggy and waterlogged with tussocks of grass and reeds. To one side are conifer plantations and higher up small rocky outcrops. This not only offers rich visual material but also rich audio material too. Nita and I are heading back to Beinn Dubh again tomorrow to collect more recordings but I’m still not too sure exactly how I’ll use them with the drawings yet.

abstract landscape painting

Beinn Dubh drawing (Section 1)

Right then, with this work starting to develop, another angle has just opened up…..and a very exciting one too. You’ll remember that over the last three years I’ve been working with Seattle based independent film maker Daniel Thornton to create a documentary about my work. This project is still on going and as such I’m in regular contact with Dan and have been keeping him updated with the new developments. Well then, a few months ago he put me in contact with a small research team working at Microsoft in Seattle. They are currently working on a project to create a system that will help blind and visually impaired people better interpret 2 dimensional images ….paintings, drawings etc, using different levels and types of audio interpretation. They were keen to work alongside an artist and when Dan explained that I was an artist who was starting to work with sound and drawing, and that I was visually impaired too, they got in contact.

In short it has been agreed that we will collaborate on the project and all is arranged for Nita and I to fly out to Seattle in a few weeks time. We will be visiting the team along with Dan, for a day when we first get there, to see the system they are working on. Then, Dan, Cindy, Nita and I will be driving down to Joseph in Oregon where a short residency has been arranged. The point of this is for me to explore the surrounding landscape and to gather as much information, both visual and audio so that on my return to Scotland I can create a new large (8ft wide x 4ft high) pastel drawing. Before heading back home however, we’ll be visiting the team at Microsoft once again to look at the material we’ve collected and discuss how we use it to interpret the new large drawing I’ll be creating. Wow!

Back in Scotland, I’ll then have until the end of August to create the new drawing and as it develops, we’ll all be working together to create the audio interpretation to go with it. At the end, the work will go back to Seattle and I’ll be heading back there too to help present it as part of a much larger art and science project taking place in Seattle in October. I’ll be giving more information as the project develops and I should be able to post regular updates while we’re away in May.

Finally, I’ve been doing quite a lot of work on the sound for my new Beinn Dubh piece and so with a bit of luck we’ll be able to get something for you to hear soon……..listen to this space!!!

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