Reviews / Masterly handling of watercolour

Storm over Yell Sound by Peter Davis - Photo: Shetland Museum and Archives

For those of you who are familiar with Peter Davis’ work this exhibition can be seen as a major development in his painting style.

We are accustomed to seeing Peter’s superb mastery of watercolour and his use of ‘blobs’ to portray elements of the Shetland landscape.  This exhibition takes this a step farther and a large number of the paintings in this exhibition are much more representational impressions of the landscape.

Peter states that he is inspired by the seasons, time and the effect of light and the sky on water.  Like me he also likes winter – a season of brooding skies, dark snow laden clouds and that amazing horizontal light as the low sun turns hills yellow or pink.

From information gathered out in the landscape he paints in his Weisdale studio. The huge expanses of delicate watercolour washes could never be controlled out in the field.  A lot of Peter’s paintings are based on the west mainland – that area of wide expanses scattered with lochs under huge skies with the setting sun and Foula to the west.


Sunrises and sunsets are evident in the exhibition, not by fussy violent colours but by delicate warm hues on the multi-layered landscape.

Storm over Yell Sound is one of the more dramatic paintings in the exhibition. A heavy fast moving lump of weather, laden with snow, is racing down Yell Sound, the hugeness of the storm dominating the land and sea below. 

In contrast Sand Water captures one of those wonderful simmer dim nights, totally calm – not a ripple on the loch. You can imagine the snipe drumming. 

For those familiar with Peter’s more ‘blobby’ style, there are a series of paintings made up from layered washes in delicate colours. These also focus on details in the landscape.  Weisdale in February with its dramatic burn slicing through snowy slopes is lit by the glow of a pink winter sky.

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Aside from the subject matter, take time to study the masterly handling of watercolour. Not an easy medium to use, it is very unforgiving. A painting needs careful planning before paint hits the paper. Mistakes are often impossible to fix.  The pale washes have to be done fast and in one go, any tweaking and dabbling would be obvious. 

I like the use of white gouache, at least I think it’s white gouache, to enhance the skies in a few of the paintings; it adds to the solidity and drama of the weather as well as adding texture contrasting with the colour washes.

All in all this is a significant exhibition. It’s taken four years to put together and it’s been worth the wait.  And I now need to scour my maps to find Ellen Gray’s Bottom. It would be too easy to ask the artist.

Of Time and Water by Peter Davis, opened at Da Gadderie (Shetland Museum and Archives) at the weekend and runs until 30 June. 

Mike Finnie

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