‘The air is part of the mountain, which does not come to an end with its rock and soil. It has its own air, and it is to the quality of its air that is due the endless diversity of its colourings.’
So wrote Nan Shepherd around 1945, in The Living Mountain. As World War Two raged in Europe, Nan Shepherd’s ‘secret place of ease’ was the Cairngorm mountains – her beloved ‘total mountain’, that she depicts as a whole ecosystem of rock, snow, cloud, water, trees, soil, plants, flowers, creatures. To understand a mountain holistically in this way was ahead of its time, running counter to then-accepted notions of mountaineering as conquest. Moreover Shepherd saw herself as an integral part of the mountain, feeling happy, healthy and ‘fey’ – just a ‘little bit mad’ – at the ‘tang of height’.
It would have been unusual in Shepherd’s day for a woman to walk confidently alone in that often-harsh environment, and to gain expertise and knowledge of the place and its systems – particularly as Shepherd was born and bred in the polite Aberdeen suburb of Cults, and had both professional and caring responsibilities throughout her life. Yet she developed a quiet radicalism that extends to her writing style: clear and unsentimental, encompassing a range of perspectives, from socio-political issues in rural communities, to poetry, myth, botany, geology, memory and feeling.
Patti Leino’s work interweaves Shepherd’s text into her own explorations of northerly places, re-imagining the text in forms and languages of contemporary painting. As a walking artist she aims to convey an ecological perspective through the work, using her art to process and speak about effects of the climate crisis, such as melting glaciers and loss of seabirds in Iceland, blue-green algae in Finland, plastic detritus on the Isle of Tiree and rewilding her garden at home during covid restrictions.
The work in this exhibition spans a decade of walking, letting the walks open-endedly inform what happens in the work. Patti has done two residencies in northern Iceland, and one at AARK.fi in Finland. She is a member of ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and Environment), has published an essay in Extending Ecocritcism (Barry and Welstead, 2018) and presented at conferences In Finland and USA as well as in the UK. Patti is a graduate of the Universities of Edinburgh and Cumbria, and taught Fine Art at University of Cumbria 2001-2018. She is currently a researcher in PhD by Fine Art Practice, honorary president of Dumfries and Galloway Fine Arts Society and on the board of directors at The CatStrand Arts Centre, New Galloway.
For the last ten years my work has been based around The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, and I am currently writing up that work into a PhD by Fine Art Practice.
For this ongoing project on the topic of northerliness, I use The Living Mountain as model for connecting the self with land and terrain. I explore and re-imagine the text in forms and languages of contemporary painting, while conveying ecological perspectives through the work. My research has taken place on residencies and walking journeys in Iceland, Finland, Tiree, and at home in Mossdale, Dumfries and Galloway.
I test out Shepherd’s multi-perspectival approach, in an experimental departure from tradition in landscape painting in which I try not to treat landscape as a ‘view’ but instead as an ecosystem that I am part of. Before I went to art school I attended classes with the late Archie Sutter Watt RSW, who was, quietly, anything but traditional. Thanks to Archie I am mindful that perspective is neither ‘correct’ nor ‘incorrect’ but an invented system for depicting space, and therefore open to Archie’s famous dictum, ‘Och, just bash it about a bit’. In recent years I have attended workshops and courses with contemporary artists Emily Ball, Simon Carter, Gary Wragg and Katy Sollohub, all of whom have encouraged different experimental/embodied ways of working.
My Icelandic work enacts Shepherd’s ‘first idea’, ‘a mountain has an inside’ in relation to melting glacier ice. From the epigraph by Shepherd, ‘All Islands are Joined under the Sea’ (Shepherd, 1934) I have painted dying seabirds and ocean plastic in Iceland and Scotland. My Finnish work looks at semi-industrial forests and trees, also applying Shepherd’s notions of antiquity in fragile alpine plants to restricted walking and drawing of flowers during the Covid pandemic.
I use the concept of ‘drawing-in-the-field’ to directly observe and make a relationship with place; this has involved some very cold work on top of Icelandic mountains. In 2015 I camped for a month in the Icelandic Westfjords, enabling very close immersion in the landscape and an increased understanding of how important it is to stop heating the planet. The directly-observational work in sketchbooks and journals feeds into studio work, where I develop the ideas and images into larger-scale paintings. My process varies according to context, but mainly I paint in oils and watercolours, as well as making models and films to help with the thinking.
Kiss the Cold Goodbye attracted ACE funding to tour galleries/community spaces; I presented at conferences in UK, USA and Finland, and have an essay included in Extending Ecocritcism (Barry and Welstead, 2018) a MUP edited anthology that brings visual art into the remit of Ecocriticism. In understanding Shepherd’s embodied experience through research-based painting, Kiss the Cold Goodbye offers new perspectives across the disciplines of Fine Art and Ecocriticism.
Recent exhibitions include:
16-30 July 2023: ‘Our Bright Earth’, Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh.
1-31 July 2022: ‘AARK and Korpo Gård Makasiini’, (AARK and Korpo Gård Summer Exhibition) Korpo, Finland.
2 June-2 July 2022: ‘Making Her Mark: Body/Paint/Land/Scapes’, Tidespace Gallery Kirkcudbright.
7-15 May 2022: GeoWeek Exhibition, Vallum Gallery, University of Cumbria.