OFTEN, THERE IS MORE TO A LANDscape than meets the eye. Looking at the wind stirring the waters of Loch Mullardoch in Glen Cannich, Inverness-shire, you might be struck by the wildness, remoteness and natural beauty of it all.
Young artist Ingrid Fraser was struck by all these things, but she was also drawn here because this landscape is far from natural. It is one of several glens to have been flooded in the 1950s as part of schemes to generate hydroelectric power, and is now home to the largest dam in Scotland.
These flooded glens – many of which contain the remains of submerged cottages and farms – have inspired a series of new works by Fraser, who will have her first solo exhibition at the Inchmore Gallery near Inverness next month. The 24-year-old painter, who was a runner-up in the Jolomo Awards for Scottish Landscape Painting in 2007, was particularly struck by Loch Mullardoch.
"Glen Affric, which is the next glen to the south, is absolutely full of tourists, but Glen Cannich has an awesome free beauty to it. Heather everywhere and not a soul in sight – I thought it was the most amazing place in the world."
She stumbled on the story of how "the Hydro" changed the landscape of Scotland almost by accident. "I'd just moved and was starting to produce work but I wasn't sure where to go with it. One day, I went out with my boyfriend in his lorry to deliver a load of stone to Glendoe on the shores of Loch Ness (where a major new hydroelectric power plant is under construction).
"All my work is about people in the landscape, and it really hit home that this is something that is happening in the Highlands."
She spent the next 18 months reading about the Hydro in Scotland, tracing some of the men who helped build the dams, and others who lost their homes when their glens were flooded.
"I'm not trying to stand on a soap box and say: 'Here's part of our social history that nobody knows about and that's really important'," she says. "To anybody who looks at them, they're just paintings of lochs, but the specific reason I went to that place and painted that view is that the loch used to be 20 feet further down, or there was a farm there."
Crucial in all the paintings are the traces of human intervention, whether a row of fence posts, a hydro dam or a wind turbine. "We leave these human marks in the midst of these awe-inspiring places that have nothing to do with us and will survive without us. A huge dam might last 100 years, but eventually that place is going to end up as it was before. We can completely change these places but in the end we're the ones who don't last very long."
Fraser graduated from Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen in 2006. . Her graduation work was a series of semi-abstract paintings which contained an essence of landscape overlaid with symbols and occasionally words.
"I never intended to be a landscape painter, it's just the one thing I keep coming back to," she says.
"The human touch is the hook. I live in a house with views across the Moray Firth, but I often prefer the back window where I can see a couple of fields and a bit of black plastic that's stuck on a fence."
She had no particular expectations when she entered her degree show work in the inaugural Jolomo Awards in 2007, and was surprised to be shortlisted for the 20,000 prize. Since her 3,000 runner-up prize, she has had her work shown in London and across Scotland.
"When I won the Award I was working in a part-time job, not really getting much painting done. It gave me to confidence to say 'I can quit this job and spend more time making the art'. Having somebody else saying: 'This is worth watching, and we're prepared to invest 3,000 to make sure you're still worth watching in a year's time', it started the ball rolling."
Her daily inspiration, she says, is a photograph of her brother Jonathan, taken on his 21st birthday. He died aged 23, after a long battle with cystic fibrosis, while Fraser, 18 months younger, was in her final year at art college. "He never felt sorry for himself. He was very stubborn – he discharged himself from hospital to go and sit exams. He wanted to be a lawyer."
Under the photo, her mother has written: "Just do it!" "I'm not driven in terms of my career," she says. "I don't want to be the next Jolomo, or the next big Scottish contemporary artist. But I'm driven to create work, to keep pushing my ideas. And people seem to think I can do this so I'll keep doing it, until somebody tells me to get a real job!"
• Ingrid Fraser: Landscape and Other Marks is at the Inchmore Gallery, Inverness, 14 February to 28 March. Artists inspired by the Scottish landscape have until 31 January to enter for the Jolomo Awards 2009 for Scottish Landscape Painting, one of the largest privately funded painting prizes in the country. Visit www.jolomofoundation.org