Issue 231
May/June 2024

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Jul 21, 2024

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Back to nature, literally – on the Solway Firth

Mary Gladstone meets an artist who is in touch with her surroundings

An eye-protected Erinclare Scrutton grinding pigment: a dangerous process

WHENEVER I read about the Solway Firth, the inlet of water that forms part of the border between Cumbria in England and Dumfries & Galloway in Scotland, I'm reminded of the UK's worst ever nuclear accident, largely hushed up back in 1957 when close to its southern bank, fire broke out in a nuclear reactor at Windscale (now Sellafield).

But for the actions of some staff, one of whom scaled the reactor and arranged for it to be doused with water, the Lake District and the surrounding countryside, including the Solway, might have been reduced to a Chernobyl-like wasteland.

Erinclare's Oystercatcher - painted using homemade charcoal and iron juice

Fortunately today, this 200 mile stretch of coast, from Stranraer to Gretna, is not in so much danger. To preserve its wildlife and environment, it's been allocated £20m so The Solway Coast and Marine Project (SCAMP) can encourage restoration and preservation of the estuary's salt-marsh, coastline and sea-water in a 15 year project led by Dumfries & Galloway Council and Solway Firth Partnership.

Last winter, artist Erinclare Scrutton took part in SCAMP's 'Winter Explorations', an exercise in observing, studying and sketching wildlife of the Solway: its oyster beds, seagrass and coastal woodlands. Inspired by this experience, Erinclare laid aside her landscape and figurative work and, under Ed and Lucy, artists from the Old Mill, Palnackie, learned to make art materials from natural sources. Pigment from pebbles, ink from holly berries, crab apples and pine cones and paper from rabbit poo and whelk egg cases.

Your ArtWork reporter might be excused for asking why. Aren't manufactured ink and paper good enough? Some might argue that crushing a berry to make ink is gimmicky or turning the clock back a millennium for no appreciable purpose.

Nevertheless, for this artist, in foraging for natural objects on the beach at Stranraer, in Kippford forest or at Caerlaverock, Erinclare has discovered infinite subtlety and extraordinary features in the natural world.

"You can't beat Nature for beauty. My main challenge is to respond to it and work with it, but not in a contrived way."

Her recent experience has led her to realise that Nature is finite. A leaf, goose feather or piece of tree bark is precious and is in danger of vanishing. Ink made from a natural source as opposed to the manufactured variety, contains a singular, unrepeatable feature in its colour and consistency. "That detail made me look at things differently."

Her arrival in this new sphere marks another stage in her adventurous career. Originally a ceramicist, who studied with Tim Proud at Harrogate, followed by a three year and one year post-graduate degree at Glasgow with Dave Cohen, Erinclare spent the next 30 years as a drummer. She returned to the visual arts in 2016 and attended a two year course in Contemporary Art Practice at Glasgow. She has exhibited at the Smithy Gallery and took part last year in Dumfries & Galloway Spring Fling's Artists' Open Studio Event from her Portpatrick studio.

Erinclare's new skills were noticed by Creative Stranraer Hub's Janet Jones, who offered her a three week residency, which she used as a lab where she boiled, pounded, smashed, sieved and pressed goose and rabbit faeces, crab apples, oak gall, alder, pine cones and bones.

The result of her potion-making is an exhibition (until late May) at the Creative Stranraer Hub to celebrate its first birthday. (CS promotes local creativity, aiming to regenerate Stranraer and its environs through various creative programmes).

Erinclare has encouraged a novel way to relate to nature. Whether it is her arrangement of seaweed on a wall that resembles the lavish folds of silk or her 'found' objects foraged from the coast, they show nature in a new light.

William Blake's words, "To see the world in a grain of sand" come to mind as this exhibition encourages us to see a new world in a squashed crab apple, the skeletal form of a withered fern, a chunk of driftwood, smoothed to a satin finish by the sea and delicate, horizontal lines, painted with pine-cone ink on the inner surface of a section of pine bark.

Who would have thought that rabbit droppings could be transformed into an eye-catching shade of emerald green when made into paper? It isn't so surprising, though, considering what the animal eats. As for the stool of the Arctic Barnacle geese at Caerlaverock, marvellously cylindrical and as dark as soot. Believing it was a paper-weight, one visitor asked if he could buy it but soon thought better of the idea.

Erinclare's response to nature, as seen in her exhibition, reflects our times. Whereas previously we could wonder and look leisurely at a wild animal (so long as it wasn't too dangerous!) and depict it on the wall of a cave, use tree trunks and branches as inspiration for building pillars and stone vaults for medieval cathedrals or take a scallop shell and represent it as a motif in neo-classical architecture, we have not got that luxury in our nuclear age.

Nature's vulnerability today has prompted artists like Erinclare to grab it firmly, to examine, explore and preserve it before it is completely destroyed.

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