Art review: Pittenweem Arts Festival, various venues, Pittenweem

Atmospheric landscapes by Janette Kerr and prints by Clive Ramage and Catherine King are among the highlights of this year’s Pittenweem Arts Festival, writes Susan Mansfield

Detail from Law of Storms, by Janette Kerr
Detail from Law of Storms, by Janette Kerr

Pittenweem Arts Festival, various venues, Pittenweem ****

As Edinburgh is submerged in the chaos of the Fringe, another, more sedate festival is getting underway in Fife. Pittenweem Arts Festival, founded in 1982 by pioneer art therapist Joyce Laing, who passed away in July, is also celebrating its return after two years of pandemic cancellation.

The festival attracts upwards of 20,000 people in a week, with galleries popping up all over the picturesque East Neuk town in churches and shops and living rooms (the programme lists more than 70 venues). A small curated programme of invited artists is augmented by a much larger selection of artists and exhibiting societies who stage their own shows, not so different from that other Festival and Fringe.

Island Series, by Caroline Finlay

The work of invited artist Janette Kerr, from Shetland, in the Old Town Hall, is a clear highlight, a blast of stormy seas and changeable weather. Working en plein air, from boats where she can, she has developed a major series of seascapes inspired by an early Met Office weather chart. Two of these large ‘States of the Sea’ paintings bookend this show, one at either end of the room, capturing something of the force and movement of the waves as if painted in their midst.

Kerr’s work ranges between abstract and representational. Some of her most abstract works are her oil studies, usually completed outdoors, often in wild weather. Her work balances study, observation and reading the stories of those who work on the sea with working expressively with paint.

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Contrasting with these is a much tighter series of large-scale drawings, Fishermen of the North, based on photographs from the 1920s which she discovered in the archives of Bergen Marine Research Centre. These anonymous men are pictured taking small rowing boats into perilous oceans and hauling aboard their catch from waters glittering with plentiful fish.

A film and sound installation by Kerr and Jo Millett, Confusing Shadow with Substance, exploring the history of a fishing station at Stennes, Shetland, and the lives the people who worked in it, is at Scottish Fisheries Museum, Anstruther, until 25 September.

The theme of the sea also comes up again and again in the work of Fife Dunfermline Printmakers Workshop in the Lesser Hall in James Street. Also part of the invited programme, this artist-run cooperative brings together a range of artists working in different styles and media. Particular highlights include Clive Ramage’s striking etching of the moon and Catherine King’s large monotype landscape, capturing weather, clouds and water in saturated shades of blue and grey.

There is much to delight, here: Babs Pease’s linocuts of heron and koi, Caroline Paterson’s shimmering mackerel, Peter Kirley’s work using Japanese woodblock techniques, Stuart Moir’s linocut of a sleeping dog. There are striking coloured monotypes: Malcom Barton’s Yellow Tulips with Oranges and Stephen Ratanski’s Elie Afternoon; Caroline Finlay’s Island series makes use of strong abstract shapes, while Leo du Feu’s tiny Studio Wren is a miniature gem. The flavour of far-off places is evoked by Sheila Carnduff’s work of Hong Kong and Caroline Paterson’s superb collagraph of Palazzo Barbaro, Venice.

Elsewhere in town, catch the master craftsmanship of Aberfeldy furniture-maker Angus Ross at the Old Men’s Club, and Sophie Fields, who graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2019, the winner of this year’s Henderson Bursary for a emerging artist, at 24 Mid Shore. Her bold screenprinted shapes evoke the colourful cut-out forms used by Matisse and Picasso.

The work of over 100 artists, from paintings and photography to jewellery and ceramics can be found elsewhere in town, among them wildlife and landscape paintings by Derek Robertson (at the Community Library); Zimbabwe-born abstract expressionist artist Umlungu (22 Marygate); colourful still lifes by Morag Muir (Howff Church Hall, James Street); landscape painter Colin Ross Jack, celebrating his 31st festival (Coastline Community Church) and the delicate fables of Pen Reid (5 West Shore).

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The Pittenweem Arts Festival runs until 13 August, www.pittenweemartsfestival.co.uk