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Thought-provoking exhibition at Bettyhill showcases work of north coast artists

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As a physical art exhibition is held in north Sutherland for the first time since lockdown, Loch Eriboll resident Fiona Burnett writes about the show and how lockdown has impacted on the artists' work.

Farr Bay Coffee House in Bettyhill opened its doors for the first time this season when it launched an art exhibition on May 8.

The event was organised by Donna Murray in partnership with the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, whose theme this year explores ‘normality’.

Several North Coast artists contributed to the eclectic exhibition with exhibits ranging from delightful bird earrings to giant stained glass scenes, landscapes and seascapes.

There was also ‘nude’, mirror artwork and painted glassware. It certainly got people talking over their coffee and cake.

Polish artist Marta Sienkiewicz Sutherland’s stained glass pieces made interesting viewing. In particular ‘Trosky’, a bold colourful piece which spoke of a journey, visiting a castle high on a hill with meandering pathways, and a significant room key in a lock. Was the castle the view from room 19?

There was a sense of travel, movement, exploring and capturing a journey pleasantly remembered, One could almost immerse oneself in the artwork and continue the journey.

Marta’s ‘normality’ changed during lockdown when her workshops were put on hold, and she found it difficult to find inspiration for her work. She said: “I am someone who has several jobs and projects running simultaneously. It can be exhausting sometimes.

"The first lockdown gave me a chance to rest for a bit, which was relaxing but didn’t bring much inspiration with work, and brought an anxiety about making a living.”

After finding work in a different field, Marta’s inspiration returned and she is back creating once again and hopes to eventually ‘shape’ her own lockdown experience into ‘a visual appearance’.

Fiona Mcintyre Macfarlane’s painted glassware, displayed side by side on top of a mantelpiece was a statement of her ‘normality’ and how her artwork became her therapy.

With the use of different coloured paints, Fiona captured the many different emotions we experience. Warmer colours for happy times. Dark colours for difficult times, something she strongly relates to having experienced a breakdown 20 years ago.

Fiona, a former teacher and social worker now living in Bettyhill, struggled to sleep for a whole year and often ended up in her kitchen painting glassware at 3am. “It saved me,” she said.

Her first ‘poppy’ vase was admired by her neighbour who loved it so much she offered to buy it.

After researching colour and paints Fiona began experimenting with different techniques and styles and as word spread, her ‘therapy’ gradually turned into a business, ‘Lighthouse Crafts’, named after her former lighthouse home in Strathy.

One of her commissions, a ‘Mackay’ vase, recently arrived safely in Australia.

Landscape artist Stuart Mingham of Viewpoints in Rhitongue had several watercolour paintings on show, one of Loch Morlich, which captured the natural beauty of a popular area.

“Painting landscapes helps my mental health,” he said. “Being outdoors in wild places helps me reconnect with nature. I’m totally focused on the painting, outside problems cease to exist. My only concerns are what colours to use and how to apply them.

"Finally there’s the added boost of having created something unique that will hopefully give others pleasure too.

“The relationship to normality is that the natural world has actually done better than we have during the pandemic, and many of us have had more time to appreciate the beauty of nature - even if its just been the view of a tree from a window or a pot plant indoors.

"As we return to ‘normality’ we need to hold on to any increased appreciation for the natural world that we have gained over this last difficult year.”

‘Through The Darkness’, one of two profound sketches by home-educated student Molly Burnett (15), Loch Eriboll, was motivated by her friend’s struggles as well as her own, and highlights the whirlpool of emotions we feel when we are experiencing difficult times.

A book titled ‘The Little Prince’ written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery became the name and inspiration for Skerray based jewellery artist Konstantina Pateraki’s latest collection.

She uses silver and copper with a verdigris patina and gold leaf detail in her delightful bird earrings design, while coral roses and chasedony are used in other designs.

Pendants from this collection are made from multi colour quartz and agate. Following the moral of the book ‘love is all-important and allows us to truly see to the heart and beauty of all things..’ This collection is beautiful and made with love.

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