Artist Silvana McLean sadly passed away last year and The Whitehouse Gallery in Kirkcudbright, south west Scotland is paying tribute to this wonderful artist with a solo exhibition of her work.
As well as a large collection of Silvana’s prints and original paintings, there will also be items on loan from her family, such as a much treasured painting called ‘The Lighthouse’, which was part of Silvana’s school work, submitted in her application to Art School.
Something very special to me will also be on display – a portfolio of Silvana’s prints accompanied by five of my poems. This was the result of an arts project on which Silvana and I collaborated.
In 2007 when we were commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage to work on a project called ‘Voices of Glentrool & Merrick’ Silvana and I had never met, but there was an immediate rapport which led to a lasting friendship. The project was designed to reconnect people to the landscape around Glentrool, including the village purpose built to house forestry workers.
The completed work, which was based on stories and memories from the people interviewed, was the portfolio of Silvana’s etchings and my poems. A small pamphlet of the images and poems was also printed. The portfolios were placed in a number of public venues including visitor centres in Galloway, Newton Stewart Library, Ewart Library in Dumfries and the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh and National Library of Scotland. Silvana also presented everyone who had taken part in the interviews with one of the limited edition prints at a launch event in June 2008.
When we began the project we each went off to do our research, explore the landscape and, in my case, interview people who lived or had worked in the area. As well as emailing updates to each other we met meet regularly to exchange information and ideas. I vividly remember the first time we met in the Glentrool Visitor Centre, to report back on our initial findings. We were both fizzing with excitement – and we fizzed very happily over huge and delicious scones. ‘Ruthy’s’ scones we discovered were extremely conducive to creative collaboration and to cementing friendship.
Silvana went to view the Silver Flowe, an area of bog land, which gets its name because from high on the hills above, the pools of water look like silver.
When I met her afterwards, she was bouncing with excitement and ideas. Of course, she hadn’t just wanted to see it from above but to experience it herself. Luckily, she had a guide from the Forestry Commission because this unique bog is a treacherous place for the unwary.
Silvana had always been fascinated by the remoter islands and seaboards of Scotland and Ireland and her work reflects the stark beauty of these coastlines. The Glentrool project provided the impetus to head even further north to Iceland. A few years after we’d worked together I interviewed Silvana for a magazine feature in which she explained: “The research into the geology and glacier activity which formed the hills was a vital stepping stone. People who lived on that land were shaped by the forces that shaped the landscape. I was fascinated by how glaciation created the landscape and I thought – Iceland – that’s got glaciers – let’s go and see. I think you should always follow your instinct.”
After her first visit, Silvana was in thrall to Iceland’s landscape and she returned several times, including for a five-week residency in the winter with snow all around her. Not that the cold would worry Silvana. Despite her Mediterranean background (her mother was born in Rome) she always felt more of a connection to cooler climes.
Our friendship continued after the project. A catch up for coffee could segue seamlessly into lunch because we had so much to talk about. We both had cats. We both had fathers with dementia. In fact, Silvana was sure one her cats had dementia, too. We still talked about geology and glaciers and tectonic plates. One day, I hope I will go to Iceland and see for myself the landscape, which so enthralled Silvana, with its volcanoes and glaciers re-forming and shifting.
The Whitehouse Gallery exhibition opens on Saturday 2nd February at 11am and runs until 23rd. Four local makers who Silvana greatly respected have been invited to take part in this exhibition, each taking inspiration from Silvana and her work. These include Amanda Simmons (glass), Lizzie Farey (willow sculpture), Ruth Elizabeth Jones (ceramics) and Hannah McAndrew (ceramics).
If you are anywhere near Dumfries & Galloway do go and see it. If you can’t visit the area you can see some of Silvana’s work on the website gallery along with work by the four other makers.
Silvana’s own website remains as a testament to her many talents and achievements.
The world lost a remarkable artist and a truly beautiful person when Silvana McLean passed away in 2018. And I lost a wonderful friend.