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Reviews / Review: Full of weather

Sea Squall

I’m sitting writing this review on a day of drizzle and fog when the rest of the country is basking in hot sun and I’m grumping about it.  But I’m also struck by how much weather there is in Ruth Brownlee’s work, and her paintings are reminding me how lucky we are in Shetland to be able to experience our changeable weather and its influence on our lives. 

Ruth is well known in Shetland and elsewhere for her atmospheric paintings of Shetland’s coastline and this exhibition in Da Gadderie presents a wide range of her latest work and shows an ongoing development in her painting style.

When Ruth first arrived in Shetland her approach was more abstracted, although firmly rooted in landscape.  Her exposure to Shetland and its wild weather and seas has seen a shift towards more representational paintings:  but always the raw elements of the land and sea and, particularly, the weather dominate. 

There is no fussy detail here – her seascapes are full of huge swells and waves rolling in, the land is shown as headlands blurred by haze, spray and spume like Noness in Ghost headland, Noness.  Beaches such as Easting are vast flat expanses blasted by wind and washed over by breaking waves.

Every painting is full of weather:  threatening storms or lighter skies struggling through a veil of cloud as in another painting of Easting, Sky clearing, Easting.  Despite the cloud break there is little promise of sun.  There is better weather in paintings with hopeful pink skies and one pink and yellow sunset seen through showers.

These paintings are all based on real places, the result of long walks and sketching.  Evening, Sandness shows the dark bulk of Sandness Hill rising up over the flat land of Sandness with a brooding sky to the west.  

These paintings are of huge expanses of land and sea, I particularly like Sky study, North Sea and  Dusk Gale, West Yell where the horizontal format gives plenty of space.

Ruth’s palette is largely deep blues, rich greys and sandy colours. But look closer and you can see how depth is achieved by layers of colour including yellows and reds.  This is particularly apparent in the land where small touches of colour suggest moorland, peat banks and meadow flowers.

There is a maturity in this exhibition, of an artist who understands her subject and its ways intimately.  The presentation, carefully simple with crisp white frames and a decent amount of white wall between works, allows the paintings to tell their own story.  There were a lot of red dots when I was in, so if you are looking to add to a collection you need to be quick. 

Ruth Brownlee – Exploring Shetlands dramatic seas and coastline, at Da Gadderie, Shetland Museum and Archives, until 18 August.

Mike Finnie