Issue 196
Winter 2016

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Apr 25, 2017
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Elemental - abstract art defines five new malts

Abstract artist Eva Ullrich has been called in by a Highland distiller to magic the labels for their new range of Five Virtues single malts

TO CELEBRATE the launch of a series of five limited edition single malt whiskies inspired by the natural elements – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water – the Highland distillery Tomatin has teamed up with the abstract artist Eva Ullrich to explore these elements and their role in the whisky production process. The result is a series of five artworks, each an expression of a single element. Eva's artwork has been used across the series, known as the Five Virtues.

After graduating from Glasgow School of Art, Eva has exhibited both as a solo and group artist. With a creative upbringing, Eva feels it was inevitable she became an artist.

"My family are very creative, both my dad and grandad were painters, so it has always felt like a feasible thing to do. From an early age I've been learning what materials can do – be it paint, clay or wood. Being brought up in the Lake District has definitely impacted the way I experience landscape".

I ask which artists inspire her.

"Patrick Heron had a big impact on me early on (and still does) as well as Gerhard Richter's vast abstract canvases. I recently saw the Anselm Kiefer show in London, which was breathtaking. I have been very influenced by the abstract expressionists and the quality of mark making present in calligraphy. I find Japanese printmakers like Hiroshige very pleasing for their simplicity and use of space. I'd like to think these influences show through in my work."

How did the collaboration with Tomatin come about? Eva replies: "They had already decided on the concept of 'The Five Virtues' and wanted to collaborate with an artist who had a strong Scottish connection. They contacted me after reading an article about my work in relation to the elements/the weather. Although I have done commissions in the past, this is the first time that any of my paintings have been used commercially".

From gallery exhibitions to bottle labels, I ask Eva about these very different mediums of displaying her art.

"Obviously I'm used to showing my work in a traditional gallery context, so I am really excited about having my artwork on a medium that is more available to the public and appreciation from people that perhaps wouldn't usually engage with abstract painting. This is an exciting way to share artwork but I don't think it can ever replace seeing the original piece, it's a completely different medium."

Working on Tomatin's new range, I ask if tasting the new whisky inspired her vision for the new label. "I actually hadn't tried any of the Five Virtues range before I started painting but I did think it was important to taste their more widely available classic 12 year old single malt. Whisky drinking is quite a contemplative activity compelling you to consider the complexities within different distillations. The main inspiration came from their slogan 'the softer side of the highlands' and from their strong concept of visually portraying each element."

How did she cope with working on such a small scale as a bottle label?

"One of the main challenges I felt was making something on such a large scale that would be just as powerful on a small box/label. But of course that's often the sign of a good painting anyway – if you can shrink it down.

"I was surprised to discover that my favourite aspect of this project was working to a specific brief. I usually shy away from being tied down too much but in this case narrowing the parameters gave me a great sense of focus which was ironically quite liberating. For now, this is a one-off, but I really enjoyed the whole process."

Did she feel any pressure being a female artist designing a label for whisky, once so traditionally considered a 'man's drink'. She replies: "I personally haven't ever felt disadvantaged for being a female artist, but when you look at the statistics, female artists account for just fur per cent of the National Gallery of Scotland's collection.

"There is still a long way to go in overcoming gender bias, which is historically ingrained in the art world. I think with a lot of artists relying more on self-promotion through social media that things are improving. It's so important to highlight these issues."

And future plans? "I'm currently preparing for a trip to the Lofoten Islands in the north of Norway where I will gather some material from which to create a new series of paintings. I plan to show these at an exhibition in November in Bristol. I also look forward to continuing to work with Bristol Contemporary Art and showing my work internationally."

Finally, is she a whisky drinker? She replies, "Absolutely! I have always enjoyed a little whisky, but realising the intricacies of the distillation process and now knowing what an art form it can be has given me a greater appreciation. It has motivated me to be more adventurous and fully explore new tasting opportunities. Like in art, it is important to keep challenging yourself beyond the familiar."

Further information –
(With thanks to K. Duffy)

An extensive new preface by the Ross Herald of Arms, Charles Bunnett, Chamberlain of Duff House
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