Andrew Hunter is a graphic designer and artist who lives and works in Enochdhu near Kirkmichael, the start of one of the most glorious and remote sections of the Cateran Trail which winds up from the village of Kirkmichael, through Enochdhu up to the highest point of the Trail at An Lairag, then down to the Spittal of Glenshee.
Andrew in his studio, photo by Clare Cooper
He describes himself as a graphic designer and artist but it is through his painting that he finds the greatest freedom of expression. Born in Edinburgh, he studied at the College of Art after an apprenticeship in a printing company. He is Vice Chair of Perthshire Open Studios (POS) an annual event where artists and makers of all kinds open their studios to the public and which opens this year – 2016 on Saturday the 3rd of September.
View from the Cateran Trail near Kirkmichael, photo by Clare Cooper
Tell us about your studio Andrew and what inspires your work. “Fundamentally what inspires me is ideas on paper. And whilst you might say that is obvious if it is a landscape or a still life or something graphic, for me and my background, ideas are always at the heart. I think I see myself as image making when it comes to painting. Rather than a straight interpretation of a real place I tend to approach it a bit more imaginatively. I don’t necessarily want to paint exactly what I see, I want to paint what I think I see, although the starting point is usually something real. I tend to extract elements out and use them in a slightly more abstract and graphic way and because I always drew, even as a graphic designer, I used to sketch my ideas out and technology was only ever a supporting tool, it was never anything more than a means to an end. I always had to start with some kind of thought process.”
Kirkmichael Village Church’ painting by Andrew Hunter
“I use simply everything you could think of! From pen and ink to oil paints to acrylic to water colour. It is what moves me and what I think will best translate the subject matter to my satisfaction. I’ll sometimes paint things in several different materials before I’m satisfied. I’m actually quite good at burning what I don’t like when I’ve done it – there’s usually a seasonal burning and because I sometimes paint on little blocks of wood – rather eccentric looking chicken portraits, if they don’t work out they go in the fire! These days though, I don’t waste as much as I used to.”
Andrew at work in his studio
Has the subject matter that interests you changed over your career? “Yes, I would say it has. Because of where I live landscapes are obviously all around me, and I Iove painting landscapes but also I am quite a focused person and I like selling my paintings and there are an awful lot of landscape painters out there. I think that if I specialised in landscape that would be fine but I don’t, I paint all sorts of different things and I tend not to paint local landscapes so much as to go in to the landscape and come back with some thoughts and then come up with an idea that captures the essence of the landscape. I’m obsessed, when it comes to landscapes, with atmosphere, I don’t actually find blue sky and a beautiful day inspiring to paint, I a prefer a bit of drama.”
‘Hen Party’, painting by Andrew Hunter
What is it about a completed piece of work that makes you feel most satisfied? “I did a piece when I came back from Cornwall (see immediately below) which is the drawing together of several different elements which kind of hit me when I went down there. The stones in the harbours were extraordinary, quite different from what I had seen anywhere else. They are just enormous and beautifully put together and I thought they were rather wonderful. And then the old boats were easy because everybody loves these old sail boats, but the little houses perched on top, none of it is exactly as I saw it it is how I saw it in my mind. It kind of has a resonance with me which captures what left a strong memory in my mind. Likewise, when I was in Switzerland it was the little houses perched on these incredibly steep hillsides that leaves the memory and the sketches that I made weren’t actually based on my trip to Switzerland because I actually put them into snow and it was summertime!”
‘Harbour’ painting by Andrew Hunter
How has your creativity shaped you as a person – the choices you’ve made for example, the values that you hold? “In many ways it is very satisfying life for me and I could have made more of my career as a businessman if I hadn’t been so devoted to creativity. If I had actually taken my hands off the creativity side and concentrated on being more commercial, I would probably have made more money, but I would not have been so satisfied and I’ve made various career jumps which must have made people think, well ‘why did he do that’? I left a very, successful design business in Edinburgh and joined a very, small young business at the peak of the one that was doing so well because I grew to dislike the administration and the desire to only make money and I enjoyed a further 10 years of great satisfaction. I’ve always lived in the country and worked in the city rather than the other way around. I’ve always loved that time gap between leaving home and getting to the office because you can sort most things out in your head.”
Who are you inspired by? “I have various people I admire. There are various landscape painters I really admire, the West Coast painters Ethel Walker and Francis Macdonald. If I go back, I met a very famous artist who I actually commissioned to do some work for me when I was a designer called Paul Hogarth who was an RA but also an illustrator as well. He illustrated all Graham Greene’s book covers. But he was a great landscape painter but very quirky as well and I like quirky. I think quirky is fun and if you can add something to a painting that makes people laugh or smile then I think you have achieved quite a lot. That’s what I do with my chickens.”
How long have you lived on the Cateran Trail and what drew you here and makes you stay? “We moved from East Lothian, from a beautiful 15thc Tower House in Haddington and then a friend of ours who used to live here, the writer Jamie Jauncey happened to be selling this house and we bought it from him. And we just fell in love with it and even though it turned our lives upside down because I kept working in Edinburgh and stayed with a friend during the week, it all worked out fine. And we wanted our children to have a less restrictive lifestyle, to be not affected by living in a town and they all love it. What is special about Strathardle which is where we are is its fantastic contrast of sometimes feeling incredibly isolated and miles from anywhere – you could, especially in the winter time – be in Russia but actually it is only 25 minutes to Pitlochry. It is a real landscape of contrasts. I’m forever painting the landscape looking toward Bein A’Glo. I’ve done Kirkmichael village which has been very successful, but I’m afraid I’ve had to be rather destructive and I’ve torn down some buildings and changed the shape of one or two but it still looks like Kirkmichael – well you can do that without planning permission if you are an artist!”
Winter’s Visitors, painting by Andrew Hunter
There are a lot of artists and craft people who live around the Trail and you are Vice Chair of POS which is one of the biggest showcases of work in the area – can you tell us a bit about POS and what it is trying to achieve? “Well POS is going to celebrate its 10th year next year which is pretty good. It is incredibly hard work making it happen at all, mainly because not enough people are prepared to put their hands up and join in which is a real shame. The organisation exists entirely because of those members who are prepared to commit themselves. We are over subscribed with artists, there is no trouble getting artists, there is only trouble in getting enough artists to say I would really like to help. Some help to do small things but the big things end up being done by two or three people of which I am one and we are struggling to find replacements. I’ve been doing it for 6 years now and I think these organisations survive on the basis of those committed and if there is nobody there then there is no organisation. But we get support from Perth & Kinross Council as well. POS started with 80 artists participating and this year it is 140 and actually in many ways we would quite like to restrict it if we can, but despite these challenges, it’s a great thing and it inspires a lot of people and there are lots of new people moving in and wanting to get involved. Fresh faces are great. We’re going to be celebrating the 10th anniversary next year with various special events, so look out for those!”
Andrew in his kitchen
What is your dream for the Cateran Trail’s creative community – what would you like to see developed, paid more attention to, invested in? “I think (you would expect this from me) there should be some more visibility for the Cateran Trail. Too often people just stumble over it. The branding work I have done with you for the Cateran’s Common Wealth project might be able to help in this perhaps. My wife and I did a lot of walking in Switzerland and the wayfinding is fantastic. All over Europe they paint marks on stones – its called the Grande Randonnees (GR routes ) and you can walk through parts of Paris and follow the same painted stones, they are right across Europe and are like several pilgrim routes, and OK, it is a bit brutal just seeing a big splash of red or red and white or whatever which is what they’ve done, but they consistently do it and re-apply it and tidy it up so that people don’t get lost and the fundamental idea behind that is I think very good and I think it could be done without it getting in the way of people’s senses thinking ‘Oh this is man applying something that is spoiling the landscape’. I think you could do it in another way which would help people think ‘Oh, I’m on something here, I’m on the Cateran Trail.’ If you make the Trail more visible and if you link that to those around the Trail who are making things or building things or selling things, there’s a way of doing things which doesn’t need to be overtly commercial.”
‘Ducks, one, two and three’ painting by Andrew Hunter
We’re living in pretty tumultuous times right now and many folk are worried and anxious about their future and their children’s future. Climate change, political uncertainty, terrorism … what role do you think artists have in helping people navigate these stormy waters? “Well the ferries from Europe to the UK are completely booked up according to a German student I was talking to yesterday so we must offering something that people want here at least! I believe one can always think of ways of turning any problem into something positive. And yes there are artists who have a political approach to their work and who are devoted to changing people’s ideas by the way they paint but they tend to paint things you wouldn’t want to personally own! I think that creativity is a great way of resolving issues in yourself. You were just saying that you felt that on a good day arts and culture have great capacity to do three very powerful things; bring people together, challenge the status quo and create spaces – both physical and in your head – where you can imagine that anything is possible and I agree with you. Art has no boundaries and also there are no limitations to how you express things. You see that chicken up there on the shelf? That is a present from a friend of mine. I gave her one of my wooden blocks with a painting of a chicken on it as a gift and she has turned it into a small scale tapestry and given it back to me as a gift!”
Misty Trees’ painting by Andrew Hunter
Andrew was interviewed at his home in Enochdhu in August 2016 by Clare Cooper, Co-Producer of the Cateran’s Common Wealth initiative.
In addition to being Councillor for Blairgowrie & the Glens and involved in a host of other organisations and projects that promote outdoor activities and sports, Bob Ellis has played a key role in the story of the Cateran Trail. In this post he told Clare Cooper how it all began and why it holds such a special place in his heart.
Bob wearing Ashleigh Slater’s Berries & Cherries tartan at its launch in 2015, Photo, Clare Cooper
Bob, you were one of the Founders of the Cateran Trail, can you tell us how it all started?
I was approached by a chap called Alan Dick in the summer of 1999, who had the idea of a long distance circular trail around East Perthshire. He was told that I was an authority on all local paths!
We poured over various maps and came up with a route. We then set out together, Alan driving his car and me running with a Dictaphone describing the route and what had to be done on it. Once this was done, we both approached all of the landowners, around 40 of them with a basic agreement form. I also contacted Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust of which I was a Trustee with a view to them looking at the prospect of overseeing the Trail, putting together a funding package and agreements with the landowners. It was then that we all came up with the name “The Cateran Trail” named after the infamous highland brigands who went about rustling cattle.
The Trail was properly way marked and opened and launched by John Swinney MP in the year 2000. One of the visions that we had was to boost the economy of all of those villages, B&B’s and other attractions on or just off the Trail.
You’ve also been on the Steering Group for the Cateran’s Common Wealth initiative right from the start – what excites you about it’s vision and what do you hope its impact will be locally, nationally and internationally?
It was an honour and still is an honour to be asked to come onto the Steering Group of the Cateran’s Common Wealth initiative right from the start. Anything at all that helped promote not just the Cateran Trail but also what we have in East Perthshire and West Angus in the way of all aspects of culture and adventure.
My vision would be that this project when up and running attracts locals and visitors alike from all over the world regardless of age, ability and profession to come and see what is on offer in this somewhat forgotten part of Perthshire. We get people from all over the world walking the Cateran Trail from South America to New Zealand and in between, we have written evidence of this because people sign the visitor’s book in the Upper Lunch Hut which is a feature on the Trail and a welcome refuge in inclement weather. The Hut lies around 4 miles north of the hamlet of Enochdhu.
We get around 8,000 walkers a year on the Trail and this figure is rising year on year, I see this figure rising even more as we attract the more cultural people who will come and look at the cultural history and scenery, which lies on and around the Trail.
There is so much work that has already been put into this project by its’ founder, Clare Cooper and from the word go, her own visions have attracted enthusiasm from other recruited members of the Steering Group and there is an eagerness from us all to conquer any obstructions put in our way and I suppose that is a vision from us all.
We’ve lost touch a bit with this notion of ‘common wealth’ – the things that belong to all of us – yet the Cateran Trail area has an abundance of it, from its spectacular landscapes, to its history and heritage, from its contemporary arts and culture to its strong sense of community, what aspects of that common wealth do you find yourself connecting with most and why?
My connections with the Trail are easy. I may say that it is my baby and it has realised all that I wanted it to do. It has boosted the economy throughout all of the land that the Trail passes through. It has brought communities together. People are making friends with each other. But I suppose the main thing would be that I have come to realise that others are coming up with their own pet projects and they are proving successful, like the Eco Camp at Blackwater, the Community Shop in Kirkmichael is doing really well, Clare’s Cateran Common Wealth project has been born out of it. Seriously, I could connect with a whole amount of things, people, places and projects.
If you could only visit one spot on the Cateran Trail, where would it be?
I could say that my favourite spot is the whole of the Trail but being put on the spot, I would have to say the top of the hill overlooking Auchentaple Loch is the bit that I could sit at all day and night and just lose myself (with a bottle of a good malt of course).
Duncan McLaren and Kate Clayton are artists living in Blairgowrie. A writer and visual artist respectively, they are two of the 120 or so people and organisations who have identified themselves as working with arts and culture in the Cateran Trail locality during a recent mapping exercise and with whom the Cateran’s Common Wealth initiative aims to work with closely. Here Duncan reflects on some of the common ground shared in his conversation with co-producer of Cateran’s Common Wealth, Clare Cooper.
Clare came to Blairgowrie this morning and introduced Kate and I to a vision of how contemporary art could be introduced to our local area, a backyard I’m already beginning to think of as ‘Cateran’.
The project’s principles: integrity of place, taking an existing asset approach and emphasising bigger-than-self values, we could identify with. (Though in the past I’ve been slow at getting beyond the self, thanks to all the van Gogh I was exposed to in my youth!) And the project’s themes: restore, reconnect and reperceive didn’t just roll off the tongue, they immediately made sense to me.
It got us thinking and talking about many things, both during the meeting and after it, but before Clare left I promised I would send her a scan from a book called Perthshire Illustrated, which was printed in 1844 in the wake of Queen Victoria’s love affair with Highland Scotland and her purchase of Balmoral. Here it is:
It came to mind because it seems to epitomize the common wealth, natural and cultural, here and now. The 200-foot gorge is spectacular; the site of Craighall Castle couldn’t be more romantic. The view belongs to us all since the right to roam legislation was introduced in 2001. But the marvellous image itself, a steel engraving based on a painting, is part of our shared heritage too as it’s long out of copyright.
In March, 2012, I went to the site of the image, took photographs and walked the cliff-top path towards the house. I wrote about Walter Scott’s visit to the castle as a young man and his use of the experience in Waverley; I described the peregrine falcons that nest in the cliffs; and retold jewel-like anecdotes from my father about each of the last three generations of Rattrays, the family that owned the house from about 1500 to 2010.
Together, right to roam legislation and Andy Wightman’s book, Who Owns Scotland?, inspired me to do the work I did that day. But I didn’t put it on-line in 2012 as I didn’t feel anybody would read it. Today, encouraged by the principles and themes that Clare communicated this morning, I have uploaded my ‘on-Cateran, off-Cateran Trail’ walk onto my website. And may it inspire a few readers to explore the natural and cultural wealth that our local area abounds with. Remember: restore, reconnect, reperceive. Walter Scott would have just loved it.
Blairgowrie, the largest town on the Cateran Trail, is the source of a great treasure of cultural ‘common wealth’ – The Laing Photographic Collection.
15,000 images taken between 1927 and 1993 from the business of D. Wilson Laing Photographers, Blairgowrie, was acquired by Perth Museum in 1997 and is the subject of an exhibition ‘A Laing Exposure’ at Alyth Museum. You can watch this fabulous short introduction to the collection below:
When it was collected in 2008, the collection was divided between Perth Museum & Art Gallery, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments Scotland and National Museums, Scotland. Perth Museum selected about 15,000 images and collected the eleven original photographer’s ledgers together with prints and other objects. Most of the plates collected by Perth Museum & Art Gallery are of places in East Perthshire and were either commissioned by the public or local businesses or produced for the press by the Laings.
But Laings were also employed to document important national projects such as the building of the Forth and Tay Road Bridges and the construction of hydroelectric schemes. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments, Scotland collected this contract work. National Museums, Scotland then selected material of particular relevance for the rest of Scotland.
Laings finally closed on 5 July, 1993 when David Constable Laing (David Mitchell Laing’s grandson) and his wife Dorothy retired.
We hope you enjoy the film!
We were lucky enough to have sustainable design luminary John Thackara visit with us in July to begin talking about how, with his help, we might use design thinking and design expertise to realise our ambitions for Cateran’s Common Wealth.
John Thackara with Marian Bruce, Sandra Wilson, Chris Lim and Andrew Barrie (and Hamish the dog) on Alyth Hill, Photo, Clare Cooper
In addition to showing him around the Cateran Trail and introducing him to some of our key partners, Clare Cooper took the opportunity to interview him about the concept of the commons and its importance.
John, why do you think so much attention is being paid to the notion of ‘the commons’ right now?
The commons is an idea, and a practice, that generates meaning and hope. Millions of people are busy working on projects that aim to meet the practical needs of people struggling to navigate these precarious times, projects that are focusing on promoting social, environmental and economic changes that will help create a more liveable world – but a lot of this work feels fragmented. We’ve been lacking an umbrella concept, a coordinating idea, to make sense of the work we do as individuals in the swarm. The Commons is that umbrella idea. Commoning gives shared meaning to the emerging ‘leave things better’ politics that otherwise lacks a name. It’s the opposite of the drive to turn everything into money,
Do you have your own favourite definition of ‘common wealth’?
I’m nervous of definitions; they cause endless disputes and also tend to freeze an idea in time. But I like the way Silke Helfrich talks about the commons as “all the things that we inherit from past generations that enable our livelihoods’. Seen through that lens, the commons can include land, watersheds, biodiversity, common knowledge, software, skills, or public buildings and spaces. The important thing is that the commons are a form of wealth that a community looks after, through the generations. The idea embodies a commitment to ‘leave things better’ rather than extract value from them as quickly as possible. They are the opposite of the impulse to monetise everything. And because the commons, as an idea, affirms our codependency with living systems and the biosphere, it also represents the new politics we’ve all been looking for to replace the industrial growth economy we have now. None of this is new, by the way. The commons goes back an awfully long way. It describes the way communities managed shared land in Medieval Europe – but earlier history, too, is filled with examples of communities managing common resources sustainably. Examples of water being shared as a commons date back 8,000 years.
When you spoke in Scotland last year (2013) you said that you believed that the arts had a transformative role, especially now, given the enormous challenges we face around climate change, resource scarcity and social injustice – can you expand a bit on that belief?
Twenty years ago, Susan Sontag posed a tricky question: “Why is it that, even when we are exposed to shocking stories and images, nothing seems to change?” Sontag was writing about war photography, but her words apply equally to environmental communications. We’ve been exposed, for 30 years, to a stream of shocking maps, images, and visualizations – ‘doomer porn’, as some call it. But passively watching this gloomy news has produced more guilt and denial than transformational change. What we need are positive triggers that reawaken a joyful sense of being at home in the natural world. This is where art and storytelling come in. They can tweak our interest, redirect our attention, and start conversations in ways that hectoring communications never do. As you’ve reminded us, Clare, Marcel Poust memorably said “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes”.
Do rural communities have a special role in helping all of us respond to these challenges?
Rural communities have an important role to play in many ways. One that I am particularly interested in is how they can act as hosts of new kinds of ‘active travel’ – from Wwoofing to Fibershedding – that involve an exchange of value, not just the purchase of a package. Making new connections between cities and their surrounding rural areas, and bringing in new internet platforms and Peer-To-Peer business models, combines tourism development with creative place making. New forms of guided tour and learning journeys are emerging that take people to novel destinations that are only now being described: watersheds, bioregions, ecomuseums, food routes, industrial heritage sites. I’m not just talking about recuperative weekend trips to nature, here: People are looking for activities that contribute in a tangible way. This trend is enabled by new business models such as Peer-2-Peer travel and the sharing economy. Think AirBNB: it didn’t exist a few years ago but is now the world’s largest hotel.
Our Cateran’s Common Wealth project is just beginning. When you visited with us in July (2014) what struck you most about what you saw and experienced in relation to what we want to try and achieve?
Many of the ingredients are already present: Buildings, biodiversity, landscapes – and above all, passionate, knowledgeable and committed people. It’s a lot of fun here! The next phase is to explore ways to connect and leverage these individual assets in ways that help them do better. In this, we’re pushing on an open door: there’s a growing demand for forest awareness, ecological camping, biodiversity trails and suchlike. I’m super-confident the project can act as a catalyst that inspires residents and visitors alike to revalue our ‘common wealth’.
Are other communities around the world trying to do something similar to us?
I have collected dozens of examples! In Slovenia, I met some bee fanatics who’ve adapted their ancient tradition of Pilgrim Tours to create hiking routes that take people to centres of Slovene apiculture: mead breweries, gingerbread workshops, apitherapy clinics. On the Andaman Islands, in Thailand, guests spend time replanting mangrove forests. In Rajasthan, the Arna-Jharna Museum, founded by one of India’s leading folklorists and oral historians, celebrates the open spaces of the desert, including its flora and fauna, as part of a larger holistic exploration of the museum as a place of learning.
We’re planning to deepen our work with you in the near future, can you explain what you are going to try and help us do?
My main contribution is threefold. First, I’ll be a kind of talent-scout who turns up in town and celebrates the unique but neglected assets that are easy for local people to take for granted. To this end, I’ll be chivvying you to make short films and paper artefacts that enable others to learn about the potential of the area. My second input will be to help you turn “would-be-nice” ideas into service prototypes that can be the basis of sustainable livelihoods in the longer term. My third contribution will be to connect you with innovators in other places who will be keen to share knowledge and experiences.
Thanks John! Looking forward to working with you and your network very much in the coming months.
(We’ll be running two Innovation Labs with John later in the autumn of 2014 which we hope will help us start thinking very creatively about the kinds of impact we want Cateran’s Common Wealth to have and we’ll be publicising those very soon on the Events page.)