Artists of Orkney: Laura Drever
There’s a long tradition of Orkney artists focusing on landscape. Stanley Cursiter was a distinguished portraitist, but from the start of his career he was also interested in landscape, and it came to dominate his output. Ian MacInnes repeatedly explored the streets of Stromness as well as the cliffs of the West Mainland. Sylvia Wishart invariably portrayed local scenes, especially Rackwick and Ootertoon, often framed by, or refracted through, a window.
In recent years Laura Drever has emerged as the most original and accomplished landscape artist now working in Orkney. Her works – whether drawing, print or oil painting – are immediately recognisable as capturing something essentially Orcadian. This is remarkable, considering how multi-layered and complex many of her pieces are, and how close they move towards abstraction.
This summer she had a major solo show at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, Teebro, which confirmed her reputation as a major Orkney artist, and was also a great commercial success. The art lovers of Orkney have taken Laura to their heart – and so have we.
The painting from which the exhibition took its name, ‘Teebro’, is in six panels, each a variation on – as the Orcadian name suggests – a theme of flickering light. Whether the light is illuminating dancing fields of barley, or shimmering through atmospheric moisture, is impossible to say.
Maybe both, maybe neither, for the work is close to pure abstraction. Even here, though, patterns in the brushmarks slowly become discernible: are they hills or clouds – or shadows cast by clouds on hills? It doesn’t matter, for we’re in a zone where what we’re really seeing is the effect of the landscape on the mind, or the retina, of the artist, rather than the landscape itself.
Two equally mysterious – or rather multi-layered – paintings were ‘Dabal’ and ‘Lochan.’ These seemed to be further out in a particular direction than anything Drever has exhibited before. The intensity of the dark blue and aquamarine ground has the effect of thrusting forwards the yellow, gold, and light green orbs at their centre. Were we looking at planets in space, or shoals of circling fish, or light moving on bodies of water? The titles suggest the latter, but the paintings are so rich in hue, so luminous and laminous, so full of movement that nothing is simple or certain, except its viewers’ astonished appreciation.
Laura’s work is currently part of an outstanding group show, The Northern Isles, at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh. Featured alongside Laura are some of her Orkney contemporaries including painter Diana Leslie, Orkney-chair-maker Kevin Gauld, and photographer Frances Scott, as well as artists from Shetland.
Also on show are works by some of the leading artists of the past, some native Orcadians like Sylvia Wishart, others visitors who developed a real understanding of the islands, and created memorable visions of it in their work, like Frances Walker and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham.
It’s a joy to see Laura Drever’s work in a prestigious gallery and in such exulted company – she has earned her place there.
Back in the summer, as Laura was making final preparations for Teebro, she took time out to show us around her studio in Kirkwall. She also let us accompany her on one of her daily walks in the countryside (in this case, to the top of Wideford Hill). Just as Ola loves to sketch and draw when a landscape or bird or flower catches her eye, later turning it into beautiful jewellery, so Laura draws or paints her impressions as she walks around Orkney, turning these sketches into stunning paintings back in her studio.
Laura’s frequent use of gold brushstrokes can’t help but appeal to us at Ola Gorie Jewellery, who work with precious metal every day. But really it’s the way she transforms the raw material of Orkney into her own unique art that fills us with admiration.
Laura’s website is here.
On Instagram she’s here.
Read about the Northern Isles exhibition at The Scottish Gallery here.