Forth Road Bridge to get artist in residence

IT HAS been one of the most recognisable symbols on the Scottish landscape for almost half a century.
Artist Kate Downie looks out from the top of one of the towers of the Forth Road Bridge. Picture: ContributedArtist Kate Downie looks out from the top of one of the towers of the Forth Road Bridge. Picture: Contributed
Artist Kate Downie looks out from the top of one of the towers of the Forth Road Bridge. Picture: Contributed

Now an artist in residence has been appointed to create a lasting tribute to the Forth Road Bridge. American-born landscape artist Kate Downie plans to create a piece of art for every year of the Bridge’s existence.

The 55-year-old, who moved to Aberdeen at the age of seven, has already started on the project, which will see her work extensively at the bridge for a month next summer.

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The appointment is part of plans to celebrate the structure’s 50th anniversary. A mass flotilla of boats, a rowing regatta, a torchlight procession and fireworks display, and even street parties are planned to mark the milestone.

Downie’s work will culminate in a major exhibition to be staged at Hopetoun House, the stately home close to the bridge at South Queensferry, as part of the Forth Bridges Festival being staged to coincide with the actual anniversary next September.

Paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, film and sound installations will all be created by the Edinburgh-based artist, who has already painting the bridge for around half its existence.

Downie has previously set up temporary studios in a brewery, at a maternity hospital, inside an oil rig and on an island underneath the Forth Bridge, when she produced earlier work on the two structures.

She said her earliest memory of Scotland was travelling over the road bridge with her family after they had relocated from the US.

Downie, who worked recently on a project at the Yangtze River Bridge in China, was approached by the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA), which is organising the ten-day festival, one of the signature events of the 2014 Homecoming Scotland campaign.

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She said the project would reflect her “fascination” with the relationship between the landscape around the Forth and the two man-made landmarks, the “beautiful engineering” which the road bridge showcases, and her “mixed feelings” about the modern-day reliance on motor vehicles to get around.

Downie told The Scotsman: “I’m going to be working below, on, around and above the road bridge as part of the project and will have a temporary studio next summer in the bridge offices and there will be set times when it will be open for people to come in and see me working.

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“I’m hoping to produce 50 new works for the project, that’s the aim at the moment, although it’s not possible to do one a day, so a lot of the preparatory work has already started and I’ve already been up to the top of the road bridge. I’ll be out there in all weathers.

“It’s a huge privilege to be able to work on something like this. I’ve always been fascinated by places where our natural landscape and man-made structures converge.

“I see the two bridges as being a bit like salt and pepper pots. It’s impossible to imagine one without the other. If you cross one you are always aware of the other one, they belong together. I don’t really have a favourite. But crossing the road bridge is a much more personal narrative, whether you are walking, cycling or on a bus. I want to catch something of that.”

Downie, who studied at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, is a past president of the Society of Scottish Artists and was made a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 2008.

Lesley Hinds, convener of FETA, said: “2014 is a big year for the Forth Road Bridge and I am delighted that we have secured an artist of Kate Downie’s standing to record its history.

“The construction of the new Queensferry Crossing will change the face of the Forth forever, lending even greater prominence to the part Kate’s pieces will play in the bridge’s history.”

Highlights of the anniversary

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The ten-day festival planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge is billed as one of the highlights of the £5.5 million Homecoming campaign planned to coincide with two major sports events being held in Scotland next year – the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.

The £200,000 event, planned to run from 4-13 September, will include a world-record attempt for the largest sit-down lunch, a vast parade and torchlight procession across the structure, an air display featuring a parachute team, and a fireworks finale to round off the celebrations.

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In the weeks leading up to the festival, exactly 2014 members of the public will get the chance to climb to the top of one of the bridge’s main towers, with the majority of tickets for the one-off venture almost sold out already.

More than 50,000 people turned out to see the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh officially unveil the bridge on 4 September, 1964.