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.