The idyllic discoveries in the annual outdoor sculpture exhibition at the Caol Ruadh Scottish Sculpture Park on the shores of the Kyles of Bute at Colintraive in the Cowal peninsula will be on hold for 2016 – in order to make the 2017 exhibition a complete surprise.
In 2017, not only will there be the annual feast of surprises hidden away to be found by the curious but the beautiful gardens in which they have been given their individual places will themselves have changed, offering new location experiences and an enhanced scale of exhibition.
Caol Ruadh is not somewhere that rests on its laurels and the plans in hand are both mouthwatering and of a scale that would daunt the spirit of most of us, even if our imaginations could come up with the ideas.
Karen Scotland and Anne Edmonds, who devise and curate the exhibitions each year, are determined to grow both the capacity and the magnetism of the sculpture exhibitions at Caol Ruadh.
Part of that challenge is to improve on what everyone saw as already perfected.
Karen explains: ‘We are intending to do some major [I hope] structural work to expand the garden and the useable exhibition space. When completed the area should yield about another 7 acres.
‘The new area will be accessed from the gravel garden by the parking area in front of the house. Visitors will walk up out of this garden across the grass and across a bridge with a considerable span. The new bridge will be visible from the Victorian bridge that crosses the burn as you come in below.
‘A series of raised board walks will take the visitor up to the higher level of the land [top] above the existing garden.
‘There will be a water feature up on this new level – as yet to be determined after the land has been cleared of all the tangle of rhododendron and excess oak which has self seeded over the years.
‘The large rock faces that dot the entire area will be incorporated in the landscape design to enhance the drama of the site.
‘It is a very boggy site at present and although we have created drainage ditches to help with this problem in the past, a lot more needs to be achieved to make the land useable and give access for sculpture.
‘In part it would be good to create a white garden around the raised board walk but it is all in the development stage at the moment.
‘We plan to plant a number of decorative and colourful trees to increase the diversity of the tree cover. The area is dominated by oaks and birch at present and gives a very limited palette.
In another part of the garden we will also be creating a new pond near the glade with the intention of using the water as a plinth for sculpture.
‘The scale is important and landscaping the surrounding site to give a sense of enclosure will be challenging. Again this is in the development stage.
‘We are currently doing some shore stabilization in front of Heather Cottage [above] and using the accumulated debris that has long sat outside the boathouse, thus killing two birds with one stone by clearing the ugly rubble from the Boathouse, leaving a more landscaped site, filling the gabions in front of the Bothy and facing them with linear slabs. The gabions will be topped with soil and grass to disguise their presence.
‘Heather Cottage is getting a new hat which will be finished in reclaimed slates and the interior will be panelled and restored to its former glory. New windows and a door will finish the upgrade so that it may stand for another 100 years.
‘We will be opening again for sculpture in 2017. Hopefully with our increased area we will be able to show a significant increase in the number of sculptures.
‘Back to the drawing board.’
While we wait in anticipation of 2017
We can’t resist recalling some of our personal favourites from the four annual exhibitions Caol Ruadh has already created.
Going to Caol Ruadh to photograph the new sculptures each year – and each year is completely different from the one before – is as much an indulgence as a responsibility to report on Argyll’s signature triumphs. There are many of these in all sorts of genres but it would be hard to top Caol Ruadh.
This is a very special place with a very specific healing tranquillity – annually filled with the unexpected and the secretive, giving every visitor the chance to respond as they will and to discover just what those responses are.
Art is one of the most mysterious agents of the world we live in and share. It is the least confined and the most expansive. What matters most is being free to respond and to find an individual meaning in what you see. For instance, take Chris Muirhead’s lovely little bright rusted structures above – Fragile Connections. We were less interested in what the artist ‘meant’ in creating these lovely little objects set amongst the mossy boulders down by the ‘Hansel and Gretel’ Apple House than in seeing them ourselves as the mushroom chimneys of Peter Pan’s lost boys secret underground homes in hiding from Captain Hook.
Over these years, we’ve discovered an enduring affinity for the work of particular artists.
Andy McClintock from Cowal is one. His work is always inventive – conceptually and technically. He seems endlessly – restlessly- creative and his work is always mysterious, challenging and full of charm.
His 2012 piece, two above, danced among ferns and flag irisis in a grove of birches. In 2013 he had a Celtic saint’s coracle tsunami-ed into a tree above the Kyles, above.
For 2014 amongst a more expansive installation, he had four watchful and rather interrogating little flying spirits crash landing on a single tree trunk, above.
And in 2015 he had an evocatively empty child’s party dress – like a hearing trumpet or an old gramophone – suspended from a tree beside an ornamental pond, above. All of these have embedded themselves in our memory and remain an imaginative challenge. See what we mean about mystery?
Then there’s Ilona Morrice based on the Black Isle in the Cromarty Firth. Her irresistibly serendipitous girl in the grass in the opening exhibition in 2012 has been completely unforgettable. Just looking at her made you feel chilled out and carefree – the ease of the body, its oneness with the grass [you could feel its coolness]; and the way the the right leg folds behind the left one – everyone who’s thrown themselves on the grass with a book on a summer’s day knows that position.
The following year, 2013, came Swimmer, a touchingly podgy little body with visible cellulite in a lost-its-stretch elderly swimsuit and a neat little red cap, sitting alone by a tree down at the shoreside, below, pensively watching the life of the Kyles pass by – as possibly so much else of life had done.
This year, 2015, came another recumbent, below – this time a definite exotic, sultry, a tad insolent and a waist to dream about – disposed languidly amongst the ferns and mosses in a nook half way up a rock face.
Of course there have been far too many individual favourite pieces to reproduce in this highly subjective tour of memory – but a little more indulgence brings three outstanding examples – all very different – of the variety of the Caol Ruadh curations in material, mood and size.
Craig Stuart Thomson’s Spectators, above, in the 2013 exhibition is unbearably touching in the sense of dispossession, hope and longing they evoke. We find it hard not to think of the clearances in seeing these somehow displaced and hollowed out souls.
This completely charming little collection – by Lorna Fraser from Edinburgh – with its ability to work differently in a wide range of garden locations, represents another aspect of the breadth and the light touch of the Caol Ruadh curations.
Then there is Rob Mulholland who has been a major exhibitor at Caol Ruadh since 2012, when he more or less occupied the entire foreshore. His moving little abandoned roofless croft houses, second top, have taken up permanent residence on the beach below Heather Cottage, washed twice daily by the tides, acquiring barnacles by the year and helplessly harvesting and being robbed of seaweed.
In 2012, the south part of the shore – and the tides – were peopled by his two dimensional steel reflective figures, changing their clothes according to the reflections they adopted from one time of the day to the next.
Caol Ruadh kept one of these figure for the 2013 exhibition – and put it inside a rhododendron shrubbery, above, where it stole the mossy branches of that environment for its arteries, musculature and bone structure, becoming a time-stretching marriage of the Green Man of mythology and one of Gunther von Hagen’s unexpectedly beautiful plastinated corpses.
Looking at these images retrieved for republication makes it harder to wait for 2017 – but the reward will be the surprise of the intriguing new gardens being created high on the hill and the new and unimaginable opportunities they will create for sculpture.
In the end, the Caol Ruadh secret is that its curators understand playfulness and the human need to play.
Note: The top photograph and that of Heather Cottage are © Caol Ruadh Sculpture Park.