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Arts / New exhibition celebrates the life and artwork of Mike McDonnell

AN AMBITIOUS new exhibition dedicated to the work of well-known local artist Mike McDonnell opens on Saturday (25 November) at the Shetland Museum and Archives.

The retrospective Logical Confusion shows the diversity of McDonnell’s work as an artist, community activist and creative initiator.

The late Mike McDonnell, who was originally from Greenock, came to Shetland with his family in 1973 to become the GP for Yell and Fetlar, a position he held until his retirement 25 years later.

An unconventional doctor who liked to be on familiar terms with his patients, Dr Mike, as he was known, was also a prolific artist who produced well over 200 pictures and sculptures, mainly of mixed media construction.

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The exhibition in Da Gadderie, comprising over 80 pieces of varying size, is a representative sample of his work, organised chronologically and reflective of themes that interested him – local commentaries, politics, religion, environmental issues, poetry, art, music and philosophy.

The museum’s exhibition officer Karen Clubb said: “Logical Confusion is a celebration of the eclectic nature of McDonnell’s work.

“Many of the pieces are quite striking in their simplicity – mostly made from found objects or ‘scran’ – perhaps from a skip, his workshop floor, or the flotsam and jetsam from the shores of Yell, all re-purposed and re-fashioned into incredible pieces of art.

“We wanted to bring the man behind the art to the fore and the exhibition includes samples of his sketchbooks, photographs of his Yell studio, and a recreation of his workbench complete with the tools and materials of his last, unfinished piece which he was working on before he died in 2022.”

The exhibition has been curated together with Jonathan Wills, a close friend of McDonnell, McDonnell’s family, Jean Urquhart and other friends.

Wills has also written and published an accompanying biographical book which will be available to purchase during the exhibition, as will be a number of McDonnell’s pieces.

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He said: “Dr Mike McDonnell was an extraordinary man who in his professional and personal life always used his many talents for the public good.

“He was an imaginative genius, and we are so delighted that the pieces in the exhibition reflect our passion for Mike’s work and our aspiration for it to be accessible to a wider audience.”

The exhibition runs from 25 November 2023 – 25 February 2024.

Meanwhile, local artist Paul Bloomer will give a talk on 30 November at 7pm in the museum, where, joined by Wills, he will take a deep dive into McDonnell’s sketch books and notebooks which show that often Mike had a clear, logical plan when he began a work, but sometimes he ended up with something entirely unexpected.

Tickets for the talk are available from the museum’s box office here.

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