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Issue 83 - Artist in Residence

Scotland Magazine Issue 83
October 2015


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Artist in Residence

A series in which Scotland Magazine celebrates Scotland's artists and artisans. Roddy Martine meets Jessie Ann Matthew

The artist and her garden are interconnected. With her home and studio at Humbie in the foothills of Soutra in Midlothian, there is no shortage of inspiration for Jessie Ann Matthew. The surrounding landscape, lush and leafy, spills all around her rustic dwelling place, tumbling into Lauderdale across the western reaches of the rolling Lammermuir Hills.

The sense of wonderment in a garden richly sculpted with Syringa or Lilac, Fennel, Rambler Roses, blue Thistles, orange Mombretia, and pink and red Azaleas, is there for all to see. Currently under construction is a Willow Arch, and there is a fragrant herb bed comprised of Rosemary, Tarragon, Lovage and Thyme.

Only a short distance from her front door, along a garden path through an orchard, is the purpose-built studio where she assembles her works. She and her husband Jonathan Gibbs, head of illustration at Edinburgh Art College, are territorial and, when at home, he prefers to work in the house.

“However, I keep my paints and sketchbook in the car and I get most of my inspiration when I'm travelling around,” says Jessie. “Particularly when I'm on the Lang Whang south west of Edinburgh, over the Pentland Hills through West Linton towards Peebles and Traquair. The scenery changes around every corner and never fails to surprise me. ” Born in Edinburgh and brought up in East Lothian, the younger daughter of the eminent Scottish architect Sir Robert Matthew, Jessie attended the Central School of Art and Design in London, becoming an all-rounder working in textiles and specialising in wall-hangings. She has also worked as a documentary photographer and has undertaken commissions from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

But it is her flowing abstract images of the Scottish hinterland that capture the popular imagination. Rich and deep in interpretation, the colours of her oil and watercolour landscapes are vibrant and true to life, harnessing the natural contrasts of the moorland, fields and wilderness through the seasons. Her technique, she suggests, is similar to her wall hangings – layered and structured – as are the still life paintings featuring flowers and china that she works on in her studio. In addition, she accepts commissions to paint other people's gardens.

“I'm particularly attracted to hills and trees and flowers,” she admits. “Scotland has so much to offer the artist, not least because of its constantly changing light. You never get bored. You can paint the same view from a multitude of angles and it will always look sparkling or marginally different depending upon the sunlight or the clouds.”

With her children grown up and away from home, Jessie now has the time on her hands to concentrate more seriously on her talent. In the past, she has held exhibitions of her work at The Peter Potter Gallery in Haddington, and the Phoenix 369 Gallery and Glass & Thomson in Edinburgh. Her most recent show was held at historic Mellerstain House, near Kelso, in Berwickshire.

“It is when I am out in the fresh air painting a landscape that I feel most alive,” she confides. “It’s very much about being in the moment.”