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Reviews / Review: an intimate portrait of local wildlife and flora

Peter Biehl's drawings can be seen at Vaila Fine Art until early July.

BORN in Denmark in 1941 and trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Copenhagen, Peter Biehl first fell in love with Shetland 20 years ago and became a frequent visitor, finally settling in the isles since his retirement as a college art teacher in Denmark.

The landscape enchanted him as he found himself “drawn to the rugged coastline, the shift between the mildness and cruelness of its temperament, seduced by the light, the contrast, the unfolding drama between life and death”.

Immersing himself in the landscape and carrying his artist’s tools, Peter draws outside exposed to the elements and all the challenges that incurs for an artist drawing on paper and battling the cold wind and rain that predominates our Northern archipelago.

In his latest exhibition Feel so Near, Peter shows how sitting patiently amongst the wild embrace of the natural world rewards him with the comings and goings of various wild animals which he captures using pencils or watercolours.

The series of drawings of the rabbits are delightful and portray a picture of the daily ramblings of the life of the warren; the tranquillity and contentment in the drawing, Cosy Days and Tresta Meeting yet also the threats and dangers from other wildlife as drawn in Dangerous Encounter and Alarm.

Birds also feature prominently with beautiful drawings of ravens and curlews as well as the Shetland wren, whose sweet song can entice us if we listen patiently and Peter has painstakingly observed and drawn every delicate feather and marking of our native bird, colouring its plumage in the dark and light hues of brown and dark red.

As well as wildlife, Peter has drawn several pictures of domestic animals such as geese, Shetland ponies and sheep. The intimacy of a ewe with her lamb and the joyful playfulness of a gang of lambs combine with the hardy Shetland ponies and the joy of new life that young foals bring to our lives at springtime.

The intense, colourful brushstrokes of the pony portraits lend a dynamic, vibrant edge to the drawings and remind us how challenging it is to draw anatomically correct pictures of a horse in gallop.

Peter has also included three landscape drawings in this exhibition. Ready for the Storm captures the impending dramatic intensity of the darkening stormy sky with the contrast of the bright pinks and yellows of the seaweed as it clings to the rocks bracing itself for the impending storm whilst Dawn – After the Storm shows the vibrancy of the sky cleansed from the storm sitting softly alongside the tranquil blue sea, seabirds pencilled in, as nature returns to relative tranquillity.

The third drawing, A Moment of Reflection, is of the sinking in April 1915 of the Avanti Savoia, a sailing boat bound for Rotterdam with a cargo of nitrates that sank in rough seas and ran aground at Burga Stack nr Culswick Ness on the West side of Shetland.

The title of this exhibition is inspired by the song (with the same title) by Scottish singer /songwriter Dougie MacLean. In Feel so Near he sings in the chorus of feeling so near to the howling of the wind, the crashing of the waves and the flowers in the field, all the aspects of the Shetland landscape that Peter holds dear and depicts so confidently and beautifully in his series of drawings.

Peter Biehl’s drawings can be seen at Vaila Fine Art in Lerwick. The exhibition runs until early July, and is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 11am and 5pm.

Alex Purbrick

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