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Issue 92 - Artist in Residence

Scotland Magazine Issue 92
April 2017

 

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Artist in Residence

Roddy Martine meets Minette Bell Macdonald

Growing up at Rammerscales, her family's imposing Georgian home west of Lockerbie, Minette Bell Macdonald was exposed early on to her
Canadian-born father's impressive contemporary art collection.

“He bought works from artists when they were just starting out,” she says. “A lot of our friends couldn't make head or tail of them, but my father had an incredible eye. He chose pictures because he loved them but he also knew exactly what he was doing.”

Inevitably this impacted on Minette and although she admits to doing a variety of different jobs, including helping her farmer brother out with the lambing, there is a steely self-confidence when she talks about art. “It's painting that keeps me sane,” she insists.

Slim and purposeful, she confides that the centre of her universe is what she calls The Art Hut, across the farmyard from her home near Hightae, Lockerbie. It is from here, working in acrylic or chalk on paper or board, that she sets out to capture the vast emptiness and scenic drama of the landscapes she loves, which surrounds her. What's more, you can tangibly feel that love in her pictures.

Uncomplicated and simple, there is no hidden agenda to Minette's work. Nevertheless, there is a sensuous physicality about her Border Hills; a road to heaven at Caerlaverock; wheat fields basking in sunlight; the stone sheep shelters in a glen; the River Annan in flood; a Roman fort at Durisdeer, and the shorelines of the Solway Firth captured in the early snow or a golden sunrise. She talks about exploring the Megget Valley and walking across the moors towards St Mary's Loch. This is God's own country.

Minette trained as a mature student at Carlisle College of Art & Design and came away with a First Class Honours Degree. To begin with, there were two exhibitions at the Bartley Gray Gallery in Chelsea, London, and she participated in a number of mixed exhibitions, including one in Boston, USA. Her agent also took her work to the Affordable Art Fair in Islington and Art on the Square in Glasgow, but family circumstances interrupted.

After her father's death she devoted her time exclusively to looking after her mother until, after her mother's death in 2009, she began to paint again.

First it was bright watercolours of flowers, animals and birds but, after 2015, she decided to concentrate on landscapes and signed up for a course at Loch Kishorn in Wester Ross. “The atmosphere there absorbed everything into my body allowing me to paint how I felt,” she recalls with a wistful look. “It was a wonderful release. The best thing about painting landscapes is that you end up in places you've never been before.”

On a normal excursion, Minette now sets out alone in all seasons and tucks herself into a recess wherever she can find one, working initially in colour chalks to capture the light as the wind picks up. “You find such amazing colours in Scotland,” she enthuses. “The light changes all the time and the weather helps enormously. If it rains, it doesn't matter. So often it simply enhances the imagery.”

Although she welcomes visitors to The Art Hut, Minette genuinely embraces the solitude found in working in the middle of nowhere, dressed accordingly. “Going into the wilds is my therapy,” she insists. “You become so involved with your subject matter that you don't miss people. It's good to be alone. You need to be alone. You can socialize later when you exhibit.”

“When I'm occasionally asked why I don't have people in my landscapes, I reply 'why should I?' It's my world. My paintings are not there to tell a story. They are timeless. What I want is for people to make up their own minds about the wilderness and to travel with me into my world.”

Further Information

Minette's most recent exhibitions were held in January at Bonhams, the fine art auctioneers in Edinburgh, and from mid-March to mid-April 2017 at the Caerlaverock Wetland Centre, nine miles southeast of Dumfries. For the second year, she is currently participating in the open-studio art festival Spring Fling, which is held annually across Dumfries and Galloway.
www.spring-fling.co.uk

The Art Hut
Hightae, Lockerbie, DG11 1JG
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 811 850
www.rammerscales.com/the-art-hut