A Brief And Very Personal View Of The Society of Wood Engravers 80th Annual Exhibition

By Bernie Bell

society of wood engravers B BellI had mentioned to Hannah, that I was going into Stromness to get my hair cut and raid charity shops, and she suggested that I take the opportunity to see the exhibition of engravings in the Pier Arts Centre – she’d been to see them, was impressed, and thought I’d like them, too.  She was right.  What follows is my impressions whilst taking a stroll through the landscapes, places, faces and …..beings, presented by the, very varied, artists contributing to this exhibition.

1)      ‘The Boy Who Could Hold Back The Sea’ by Andrew Davidson.  This image presents the world as viewed looking up, through a vortex of fish, to a rocky outcrop, with outlines of people, standing. Sounds simple, and it is, in that it has a simplicity of line, but, a lot of movement and LIFE – as do many of these engravings. You expect it to become an Escher engraving, with the fish turning, as they swirl, turning into??????? bats, birds?  As Escher creatures do.

2)      A sort-of counter-part ‘The Boy Who….’ is ‘The Man Who Bottled The Sun’, also by Andrew Davidson.  This time, the swirl is of light, in the sky, being caught in the hand of a man on a prancing horse.  Both images, are full of LIFE  and movement.

3)      ‘Very Erratic’ by David Dobson. An engraving of a stripy glacial erratic, lying on a bed of subsidiary, stripy and spotted, stones of indeterminate origin, as indeterminate as the origins of a glacial erratic can be.  Having just visited Assynt, and walked the Knockan Cragg geology trail, thinking of the work of  Mr. Peach and Mr Horne in deciphering the    puzzle of where rocks come from and how they get to be where we see them –  this piece had immediate  resonance for me.

4)  ‘A Haunt of Peace’ by Viv Styles.  This reminded me of a tale about the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail. We know an artist, Annie Cattrell. Annie has some work featured in this sculpture trail. Mike and I had walked the trail some years ago, were talking with Annie of this, and she told us this tale……….. There is one place, where the trees have little plaques on them, saying ‘Peace’ and ‘Silence’ and other, similar words/concepts.  Annie told us, that, when the chap who made those plaques, died, the one saying ‘Silence’, fell off the tree, and smashed.

‘A Haunt of Peace’, is an image of tree trunks. Trees, growing thickly.  You can imagine the stillness, silence, peace, almost heaviness, beneath those trees.  Until something falls………………

 5) ‘Steadfast Oaks’ by Sue Scullard, simply reminded me of this poem, by Mike.


The two old oaks stand on the bank and grow

More close as each succeeding year goes by

Their boughs reach out and touch as sap doth flow

And now at last entwine and softly sigh


So why, my Dear, do I think now of you?

So quick, alive and full of deeds and words

Is it, perhaps, the play of light and hue

Of leaf and trunk and branch alive with birds?


Or else their stately steadfast standing firm

Is like your certain loving nature, strong

As we together grow in love full term

And dream deep-rooted love that lasts so long


Now truth there is in all these words above

But more, I know that we’ll grow old in love



Which then got me thinking of how art can connect and lead the observer/participant from one form of expression to another. Which leads me to……….

6) ‘Sea Rising’ by Neil Bonsfield.  My immediate thought was the song by Johnny Cash – ‘How high’s the water Mama? – Five feet high and rising”.  And….the terrible floods around New Orleans in 2005,  which have, strangely, fallen out of public awareness/the media.  The effects are still there, still affecting people’s lives, but who mentions it now? These two images brought it back – and it’s happening here.

And these, to me, lead to

7) ‘Perfect – Just right for development’ by Hilary Paynter.  Destruction of another kind, not by natural forces, but conscious despoilation of the natural world, by    ……………..us.

8)  Another little bit of synchronicity (I do like synchronicity) with where we’ve just been, is the engraving ‘Hirta. St. Kilda’, also by Hilary Paynter.  I defy them to   try to ‘develop’ St. Kilda – that’s been left in peace, for some time now.

 9)  And, finally, ‘Which Way?’ by Paul Kershaw. It’s an image of a stile, in the middle of concentric circles. So, which way do you go, when there isn’t a ‘way’?  Do you hope to stretch out, reach out, all around you?  That’s what it says to me.

I did say that it’s a very personal viewing!

society of wood engravers film B BellI was talking with a man, who was marvelling at the work on display, and saying that it would be good to be able to see the blocks from which these images/impressions were made. I agreed with him, that it would be good to see the different parts of the process used to  produce the images, and added that I’d had the idea, that the exhibition would include some – which it doesn’t, and I don’t know where I got that idea from!  His answer to this was………….”That was just an impression you had,” whilst gesturing to the impressions, on the walls!  Clever.

And then, as I always do when I’ve been round the Pier Arts Centre. I sat quietly and went for a stroll in ‘Reflections’ by Sylvia Wishart.

And, on the way home, 4 swans flew across, together, right over the road,  just ahead of us. What a place to live.


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