Using stories to inspire art

A collaboration with the UHI West Highland Creative Arts program invited students to reinterpret stories through painting.

Stories are always subject to reinvention- many of the stories in the COAST gathering have been retold, built on and embellished over the centuries.

The power of stories to inspire was at the heart of a recent collaboration between COAST and the UHI West Highland Creative Arts program when students from the NPA Painting class were invited to interpret stories through art.  

Some drew on an existing COAST story. Maggie Wilson is from Ballachulish where the story of the Ballachulish goddess is known and loved locally.

“The Highlands of Scotland’s West coast would have been a very different place when the Goddess was buried face down in the moss surrounded by woven twigs.  Was she a pagan idol? Or perhaps Cailleach Bheither, the hag goddess of wind and storm, but that is another Celtic legend. 

We will never know why or by whom the Goddess was created 600BC.  She will remain a mystery regardless of the many theories surrounding her.” – Maggie Wilson

‘The Ballachulish Goddess’. Acrylics and plaster on board. Artist, Maggie Wilson.

Other artists also chose stories with significance to their local area, or that drew on childhood memories. A selection of these were added to the COAST gathering, giving us new stories as well as images of the artwork.

For instance, Jane Strachan created two paintings based on the Keppoch murders (the second painting in the series, ‘Witness 2 ~ of Croft and Glen beneath Cille Choirill’ can be seen here).

“The 13th century window in Cille Choirill could reflect so much over the centuries; life, love, death, including glimpses of the avenged Keppoch murders of 1663, and Iain Lom’s gruesome journey over the hill, past the kirk to Glengarry carrying the seven dismembered heads in 1665. Did he rest against the stone walls after the long uphill trail from Inverlair, placing his bloodied hands on the cill? Did he pray for guidance here after witnessing the murders? Iain Lom was buried near the church and his memorial stone stands beside this window looking over the lands of Keppoch, Inverlair and beyond to Corrour. The dark story unfolds and is reflected in the upper panes but the lower panes represent reflections of more peaceful lighter times.” – Jane Strachan

‘Witness 1 ~ 13th century window at Cille Choirill’. Acrylic on canvas. Artist, Jane Strachan.

Others chose stories that illustrated an issue or philosophy important to them.

“The writer Angus Edward MacInnes of Eriskay tells a story of second sight.  His uncle was lying sick in his bed when he heard a commotion outside the window.  A group of men, dressed in Sunday best, were slowly walking between his and his neighbours house.  This was a route never walked so he was confused. When he later asked his family if they’d seen anything, no-one had.

Exactly one year to the day later, the coffin of one of the sons from the neighbouring house was being taken to the graveyard.  But the coffin was too big to take through the house so they had to pass it through the window.  The scene he had witnessed a year before came to pass.  In our world.  In another world it had happened a year before.

The idea of different worlds co-existing simultaneously lie at the heart of these works.  We think we understand the world, but our understanding… doesn’t chime with Quantum Physics which is the science which explains the minutae of our world and how we exist in and relate to the realities of Past, Present and Future.” – Iain Ross

‘The World Around Us’. This is the central work in a series of nine, painted on corrugated iron, hardboard and woven paper using acrylic paint, oil crayon and household emulsion. Artist, Iain Ross.

“My painting hopefully illustrates pictorially that the human race has ravaged our world and destroyed the natural order of nature by its methods of industrial production, the burning of fossil fuels, the breeding of livestock and fish farming… In my view the hope of a recovery is fading fast and a desolate earth devoid of humanity is inevitable.” – Stan Barnes

‘A Concerned Human, Planet Earth’. Acrylic on hardboard. Artist, Stan Barnes.

Use the images below to explore the rest of the contributions and accompanying paintings, including the story of Lochaber wise woman Gormshùil Mhòr na Maighe, the evolution of a Highland cottage in Kinlochiel from crofting days to now, memories of an Ayrshire childhood, the Puck Goat festival in County Kerry, and a personal perspective of ascending a legendary mountain in Glencoe.