Arts diary: ‘Soft spot for Skye’s Atlas’

One of Jonny Shaw's photorealist pencil drawings, part of the Veneer exhibition. Picture: Complimentary/Jonny Shaw
One of Jonny Shaw's photorealist pencil drawings, part of the Veneer exhibition. Picture: Complimentary/Jonny Shaw
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THE DIARY is starting to develop a bit of a soft spot for Atlas, the contemporary arts organisation based on the Isle of Skye. Earlier in the year they unveiled a series of “memory maps” of the island, created by the artist J Maizlish Mole.

As well as roads, hills, rivers and all the other things you’d expect to see on a conventional map, these bizarre documents also included less obvious features: “boggy slopes”, for example, “a man building a fence” and the rather vague-sounding “craggy volcanic peaks, etc”. The aim, according to Mole, was not to record the island in precise geographical detail, but to capture “the lived experience and the impression left”. The maps are to be displayed on information boards around Portree this summer, and print copies will be dished out to tourists. The Diary confidently predicts that these beautiful, quirky artefacts will rapidly become collector’s items.

Anyway, not content with masterminding one brilliant geography-related art project this year, the folks at Atlas now appear to have a second one on the go. Alec Finlay – poet, artist and son of the late, great Ian Hamilton Finlay – has been commissioned by Atlas to create “word maps” of 14 viewpoints on the island. Entitled comhlan bheanntan | a company of mountains, and inspired by the work of Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (famous for his masterpiece of travel writing, Oku no hosomichi – “Narrow Road to the Deep North”), they are due to be unveiled next month.

In an event titled Panorama, on 18 and 19 May, members of the public will be invited to join Finlay for walks in the hills during which he will give readings of his new poems. There will also be poetry readings from Skye-based poet and academic Meg Bateman and a joint performance-cum-lecture by artist Ilana Halperin, archaeologist Karen Holmberg and curator Andrew Patrizio, exploring the human fascination with volcanoes.

Also on the Panorama bill: music from Wounded Knee and “analogue electronica” outfit 7VWWVW, performing a tribute to mountaineer, author and broadcaster Tom Weir. They’ll be playing a live score alongside some specially edited footage of Weir’s popular TV programme, Weir’s Way.

Can state-funded arts initiatives like these (Atlas is funded by Creative Scotland) help boost tourist numbers? Can Skye businesses expect a bumper summer in 2013? One thing’s for sure: art lovers now have plenty of reasons to visit.

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IN THESE brutal economic times, with arts organisations throughout the land feeling the squeeze, every little flicker of cultural growth should be celebrated like the sudden, unexpected appearance of an oasis in the desert. So the Diary would like to extend the warmest possible welcome to Veneer, a new contemporary art space that has recently opened its doors in Glasgow. Located at 1184 Argyle Street, the gallery is currently showing photorealist pencil drawings by Glasgow School of Art graduate Jonny Shaw.

The Scotsman’s art critic, Duncan Macmillan, singled Shaw out as one to watch in his review of the 2003 GSA Degree Show, and it seems he called it right: Shaw has since picked up a whole slew of awards and bursaries, and the meticulously executed pictures in his Veneer exhibition, simply entitled Figures, are nothing short of stunning (see below).

Like recently-established Edinburgh galleries such as Superclub and Rhubaba, Veneer combines an exhibition space with artists’ studios, although in this case there’s a neat architectural twist: a section of glass floor in the gallery also serves as a skylight for the studios in the basement.

Figures runs until 20 April, and it will be interesting to see what gallery owner Alex Campbell programmes next. He tells the Diary he’s open to exhibition proposals from all disciplines, so if you’re an aspiring artist, drop him a line on and who knows? You might get to become part of a rare good news story.