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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Robert Burns Connection

Touched by Robert Burns
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum,
Murdoch's Lone, Alloway, Ayr 
0844 493 2601 
July 9 - Sept 11

Hall's book on Burns, published by Birlinn, £20

THE beauty of photographer Andy Hall’s epic project, Touched by Robert Burns, is its commonality.

Hall’s book, published by Birlinn in 2008 and launched by First Minister Alex Salmond at Edinburgh Castle on St Andrews Night that year, is a visual and 

verbal feast for anyone with an interest in Scots culture.

The good news is that now his photographs and accompanying text relating to The Bard is about to be writ large on the walls of the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway in an exhibition which opens a week today.

Most Scots – and many non-Scots – have a tale to tell about their own connection to Burns. What Andy Hall has done so effectively in his own homage to Burns, is harness that commonality. 

The result is a set of 67 testaments by 67 widely different individuals from a multitude of backgrounds, ranging from Sir Alex Ferguson to Andrew O’Hagan to Seamus Heaney and Maya Angelou, accompanied by an image created by Hall in response to their texts.
Stonehaven-based Hall’s interpretation of lines from Robert Burns’s poems comprise of landscape, portrait, abstract and close-up macro photographs, as well as unusual angles of well-known Burns landmarks in Alloway in Ayrshire where the poet was born in 1759 and in Dumfries where he died in 1796.

And so, we see Sweet Afton as captured by Hall, side by side with a personal viewpoint from Ayrshireman, Sir Tom Hunter. Or, a fairy castle view of Edinburgh Castle under a deep blue sky, as picked out by jazz singer Tam White in Burns’ poem Address to Edinburgh. O’Hagan’s tribute is matched to a blood red poppy (But pleasures are like poppies spread... ). O’Hagan, who grew up in Kilwinning in Ayrshire, writes beautifully about fading time and the way in which Burns bridges a gap, ‘making a home for mice and men in the natural order’.

The simple connectivity of Hall’s idea works on several levels. Hall, like Burns’ own forebears, is from The Mearns in Kincardineshire in the north east of Scotland. He tells us in the book that when Burns visited the area in 1787, he described the rolling landscape there as ‘a rich and cultivated but still undisclosed country’.

The Burnes brothers, William (the poet’s father) and Robert, left Kincardineshire as young men in 1748, driven southward by poor farming opportunities in the north east. The spot where they parted, never to meet again, is marked by a cairn by the A90, but Hall has chosen to illustrate this momentous stepping out into the world with a photograph of Garvock Tap, near Laurencekirk.

This is the Mearns which was later to be drawn so vividly by Arbuthnott boy, James Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon) in his novel Sunset Song. A big Mearns sky, scudded with white puffy clouds, looming over the land below for as far as the eye can see.
‘Ae Farewell, alas, for ever,’ states Hall in his own written response to re-imagining this highly-charged scene.
Hall is clearly passionate about his chosen subject matter and it is fitting that highlights from his 2008 publication have now been transplanted to Ayrshire, following hot on the heels of the highly successful Peter Howson Burns Revealed exhibition.

The resulting exhibition combines Hall’s photographs with insights from a range of well-known personalities featured in the book, all of whom discuss how Burns has touched their lives.

There are some touching surprises along the way. Alex Salmond quotes a verse from A Man’s a Man for A’ That, adding the codicil that, ‘from thoughts like these auld Scotia’s grandeur springs, and I try to act in their spirit in all that I do.”

Seamus Heaney extols ‘Leg-lifting, heartsome, lightsome Burns while Sir Alex Ferguson marvels at Burns’ ‘ability to transfer his observations of life into poems or songs and onto paper.’

Dr Tom Sutherland, who spent six and a half years chained to a wall in a Beirut cell during the 1980s, reveals that during his period of captivity, it was remembered snatches of Burns’ poetry which sustained him. He also insisted that each January 25, he and his cell mates celebrate Burns (with varying degrees of success).

On the one occasion he was in solitary confinement in 1987, he recited as many of the poems as he could remember. ‘He saved me that night,’ adds Sutherland.

Hall states that it is ‘the lightness of touch of Burns’ writing’ together with the ‘everyday presence of his influence’ which was the starting point for the project.

Whatever Burns means to you, you will find an echo of it in this thoughtful exhibition. 
Andy Hall in action

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