Artists of Orkney - Colin Kirkpatrick
‘Kringlo’ is an Orkney word meaning ‘stars.’ But stars of a particular kind: the sort you see when you give your head a bang. Maybe you’ve been crawling down the passageway at Maes Howe and look up just a second too soon, so your skull bashes into the hard Neolithic roof-stone: ‘Ouch! Kringlos!’
Colin Kirkpatrick’s current show at the Pier Art Centre, Stromness, Kringlo and other constellations, is a mixture of internal illuminations, and flashes of inspiration originating in the outside world. His connection of the internal and external makes for enigmatic and powerful works that are both wholly Orcadian and entirely personal.
Most artists living in or visiting Orkney depict the landscape – the cliffs, the fields, the whale-backed islands. Some do it with great skill and imagination, but many just repeat the same old clichés. Is it possible for a place to be overpainted? Yes, if the flood of depictions focuses endlessly on a few picturesque features, approved signifiers of natural beauty. The best, like Sylvia Wishart, Colin’s tutor at Gray’s School of Art, as well as a near neighbour in Ootertoon, manage to develop an approach that results in works that are unmistakably Orcadian, but also uniquely, indubitably, the vision of that one individual.
Rather than elaborating the tired tropes of hill and sea, Colin identifies images that stand for various aspects of Orkney life and reduces them to their simplest forms: just a few lines, somewhere between Keith Haring’s graffiti and Henri Matisse’s cut outs. And he places them in a loose pattern – a constellation – with other iconic images, so they play off against each other, creating a shapeshifting, kaleidoscopic picture. The eye goes from one element to another, making connections, seeing parallels, noting startling juxtapositions: trout, skate, damselflies; cowboys, pilots, flat-capped farmers; cameras, wind turbines, whisky bottles; eyes, hands, skulls.
His approach has interesting parallels with Ola Gorie’s jewellery designs. Ola identifies visual symbols in Orkney’s heritage or its natural environment, and singles them out from their complex context. A very clear example is the St Magnus Cross. Ola noticed it – a minor feature amongst hundreds in the cathedral – drew it, and transformed its shapes into a faithful but stylised representation. Now it’s an iconic representation of Orkney – and beautiful jewellery. She wrought similar transformations with previously unremarked or underappreciated emblems like the Maeshowe Dragon, the runes of Ingibiorg, and from nature, birds, grasses, berries, the twisting knots of water in the flowing tides.
Ola’s images are usually worn by themselves, and their impact comes from their own beauty and the stories wrapped around them. But taken together, Ola’s designs are a constellation of kringlos rather like the ones Colin Kirkpatrick creates in his artwork.
Orkney is lucky to have so many truly visionary artists, whether they work in silver and gold like Ola Gorie, or on battered old wood like Colin Kirkpatrick. They help us see the world we live in, and they add to the beauty of our world.
Kringlo and other constellations is on show at the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, until 11th November.
Images from top to bottom: Colin Kirkpatrick with 'Sun Dancing on Water', 'EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment)', 'Trout 1 to Redd Leader', 'Ootertoon Odyssey with Laverock.')