Mary MacIver - Pilgrim Souls
21 February - 19 April 2009
The visionary paintings of Mary MacIver (pronounced Mackeever) have long been admired notably by fellow artists including Richard Demarco C.B.E., and Alexander Moffat O.B.E, (formerly head of painting at Glasgow school of Art); yet she first began to paint only in retirement, following a teaching career of almost forty years at Portobello High School, where she was head of the English Department. It wasn't until she attended Edinburgh College of Art's special course from 1981 to 1985 that painting became a means of expression for her, influenced by events in her life and a keen knowledge of poetry, myth and legend.
This exhibition of thirteen works on paper made by MacIver in her studio in Edinburgh in 2008 took its title from the book "Pilgrim Souls", which Mary wrote about life with her late husband Hector MacIver. Hector was a great influence on Mary's life; a native Gaelic speaker, he sang old Gaelic folk songs and together they enjoyed the company of poets, actors, musicians and painters, leading Mary to believe "in the spiritual side of life and the symbolic". For over twenty years Mary lived in the village of Temple, Midlothian (next door to the painter Sir William Gillies) close to where she was brought up; acquiring a love of the countryside.
Widely travelled, Mary accompanied Richard Demarco on Edinburgh Arts exhibitions to many European countries (including Belarus, Lithuania and Poland) and he was the first to exhibit her work in 1985. Exhibitions at other venues have included; The Andrew Grant Gallery at Edinburgh College of Art (1987), the Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh (1989)and Traquair House, Peebleshire (1989 and 1999).
Mary MacIver - Works in the Exhibition, clockwise from entrance, with words by the artist:
1). Wild Dance in Nevada.
"This is the first of two paintings in the exhibition (see also no.8) of the Nevada Mountains in the United States. It shows ancient carvings of some past tribe, and, experimenting with the use of dark colour, dwells on the outstanding beauty presented before us."
2). The Bird that Isn't There.
"One day I went for a drive in Macbeth country in Perthshire. This painting shows what I saw down the extremely beautiful hills on the Tay and the trees in their autumn beauty. The cockerel I painted to celebrate the large numbers of these gorgeous animals that I saw on the way there, crowing lustily in the many farmyards of the area."
3). She is the Queen of the Golden City.
"I expect many of you have heard the street rhyme of "the Girl of the Golden City". This painting shows the children dancing in a circle singing the song. Their homes in the tenements loom up in the snow, and far away is the "golden city" they would like to reach some day. Hidden at the side is a young man which each girl hopes to love and be loved by some day."
4). New Year on Portobello Beach.
Last year a friend described to me how, as Hogmanay celebrations drew near, he and his wife were amazed to see Portobello beach (which their flat overlooks) filling up with people, alone or in picnic groups, armed with rugs, food and wood with which they lit small fires. They danced and played games - when 12 o'clock came, they lit astonishing and brilliant fireworks which lit up the sea even over Fife.
5). Envy on Both Sides.
6). Strange Beasts in My Garden.
These two works show a strange black bird with a long golden wing, studded all over with silver nails. This I first met when one day I was walking near the foot of the Himalayas. It was dusty and very hot. Relieved, I saw a large shady tree and underneath it was sitting a Nepalese man; he was chipping away at bits of what I know now to be black Yak horn, and with the aid of a knife was making this strange and beautiful bird for sale. I bought it at once and have used it in all sorts of guises in my paintings. Here in "Envy on Both Sides", the bird and a Chinese horse, both ornaments on my window sill, look out to my garden with curiosity and interest at the strange creatures before them. "Strange Beasts in My Garden" shows my bird as the spirit of Scotland, defending his country against invaders.
7). Memories of Portobello Sand.
"This is what I remember from two days earlier, when I sat for about an hour on a seat on the prom to Joppa, Portobello. It was a black stormy day. Clouds hung in the sky; the land ahead was black, the sea turbulent. Darkness seemed to creep in from the sea. Shadows from a wooden barrier and lamp post loomed ominously on the dark sand. My memory, when I compared as much of it as I could, was quite accurate."
8). Pink Moon in Nevada.
"The second of two paintings (see also no. 1) of the Nevada Mountains in the United States. This shows ancient man's carvings of three goats which are being herded - whilst a herder dispenses music in the silent ruggedness of the untamed wilderness."
9). Ship of Death.
"Charon, the Boatman steers steadfastly through countless danger amidst the tumultuous waves of the Styx, the River of Death. His passengers, the dead souls, await the end of their voyage impassively."
10). Joy of Life in the Garden.
"Here is a stone lion in my garden, who sits poised over one of my two pools of water. Here he spouts water in the moonlight, while some withered flowers rustle and his friends, there around, play and enjoy their little haven."
11). Skateraw in the past.
"The seaside village represents what Skateraw (near Dunbar) once looked like: primitive with small cottages, a church and distant farmhouses. Skateraw represented a dream for Richard Demarco, as it was here that he planned his barn to house his archives."
12). Bully Bottom Dreams.
"This scene from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Bully Button and Titania was a favourite with me and my pupils when I started as a young teacher at the Camp School of Broomlee outside West Linton. The children, sent from Leith and Granton for safety during the war were forlorn at first, and to cheer them up I put on the play in summer in the extensive grounds. The owner of the estate paid for the hire of the costumes, including a wonderful Bully's head, with moveable eyes and ears and beautiful long curling eyelashes."
13). Mad March Hares.
"Many years ago, when my Husband Hector MacIver, was still alive we lived in a small village called Temple in Midlothian. One brilliant night in March, when the moon was shining brightly, Hector threw down his pen and suggested that on such a night it was better not to waste it indoors; Let's over the hill to the river" he exclaimed. We did and came at last to the tall trees near the Esk, where there was a clear space of tall grasses. To our surprise, the oblivious of us were two large boxing Hares. We watched them, for a time, then stole away, as the warriors boxed on, each engaged on obliterating its rival."
Richard Demarco, Sandy Moffat and Mary MacIver in conversation
Sunday 1 March, 2pm, Inverleith House
All works courtesy of the artist.