A celebration of the visual arts taking place in galleries homes studios and other venues throughout Pittenweem
Invited artist Derek Robertson
I am privileged to spend my days in wild and beautiful places painting birds. I am fascinated by them: by their abstract shapes, their song, their behaviour, their migrations. I have sketched them, and helped in scientific studies of their migratory journeys from the Arctic right down into Africa.
Three years ago I watched as The Summer of Boats unfolded into a refugee crisis and I saw newscasters reporting from beaches on Mediterranean islands as desperate people came ashore. I recognised these islands as the same places I had travelled to watch and sketch migratory birds and now here were people in a similar state of immediate survival, taking the same lines of flight as the birds I portray.
Through the course of a year, I travelled through the UK and Europe, through the Mediterranean to the Middle East. On my travels I spoke to refugees, to locals and to volunteers and I sketched what I saw: the people, the places and the birds.
One of the interests that ecologists have in birds is that they are important environmental indicators. If the populations or migration of the birds change, this points to change in the environment that could be of grave concern. The issues are complex, but academic studies draw a link between climate change, conflict and refugee crises – that cause further social and environmental stress. In these complex systems, ecologists look to the birds to indicate what might be happening to our world.
They are telling us something we can now recognise for ourselves, and how we address the intertwined issues of climate change and refugee crises will define who we are and what societies we live in for generations to come.
I documented what I saw on my travels and expressed these interwoven topics through a series of paintings back in the studio, but often the stories I heard and the things I saw were difficult to express and too hard to portray. I often concentrated my attention on the details and the surface texture – the ephemera of the boats and camps and studies of the birds that I found there.
The project challenged me artistically and personally and I often found myself very far outside my comfort zone. I taught art classes in refugee schools and organised art activities for unaccompanied children in some of the camps. I was mugged in Sicily, caught in a riot in Calais and escorted off sites by armed police and soldiers, but my experiences were matched by the inspirational humanity of the many refugees and volunteers that I met.
A project that is thoughtful, sensitive and compassionate... A field study of adversity... A nature expedition through dystopia
Artist website: click here