“We all see the same things – it’s and then look for pattern and shape and how you look at them that makes your view individual.”
So said artist, Margaret Stevenson speaking about her approach to painting in her studio-gallery on the Isle of Lewis.
Gallery 5 opens for its fourth season this year, complete with a fresh new look for 2019 – as well as new paintings, new prints and greetings cards. The gallery is in the small crofting township of Tolsta Chaolais a few miles along the road from the Callanish Stones on the west side of the island.
Converted eight years ago from the remains of an old blackhouse into the artist’s studio, it now forms a unique, light-filled studio-gallery, a welcoming space for both artist and visitors. It's here that Margaret creates dynamic oil paintings that convey all the energy and vibrancy of the Hebrides.
Margaret, who signs her paintings with the Gaelic ‘Mairead’, studied graphic design at Glasgow School of Art. After graduating Margaret taught art for a time and worked as a medical artist before moving into the design industry.
It was coming to Lewis in the 1990's that moved her to explore her new home surroundings through her art. “Lewis is such an inspiring place,” she said. “I felt compelled to start going out drawing every day.” This awoke Margaret to the possibilities around her. She sketched croft houses, trees and sheep. Soon colour work followed.
“I had to teach myself how to paint, as I hadn't done any oil painting since my early days at art school. I loved graphic design, but it was a real joy to start using paint again and enjoy its rich feel. It is exciting,” enthuses Margaret.
Shapes are what first catches Margaret’s attention and it is the light reaching across the sky or falling on the beach that brings the shapes to life – ready to be captured on her canvas.
“I can’t really plan my paintings,” she explains.
“I have my basic idea but I never really know how the painting will develop. The way the colour and shapes interact takes me to the end result. I start from my sketches and observations
HEB| Issue 18 | 2019/20
light falls on the subject, creating an atmosphere, a mood. I want to put something together that imparts this mood or feeling and will engage the viewer. The islands are full of life and vibrancy, and I want to show this in my paintings.”
Margaret's gallery is one of her favourite places
to work – having been custom-built to her requirements. “The black house had three walls when we moved here and the thatch was long gone. It was being used as a sheep fank. I thought it would be a nice place for a studio but I didn’t realise it was going to be so fantastic. There's such beautiful light and it gives me a lot of pleasure just to come into it and work and welcome visitors here,” she says. “People come from far and wide to the islands and it's great to talk to them. Some like to hear the process behind the paintings – some are artists themselves. You hear people’s reactions to your paintings, you hear about other people’s art and their lives.”
Painting is something that Margaret never tires of as she is constantly thrilled and surprised while her work develops.
Margaret's skill as a painter goes hand-in-hand with her husband John's talent for frame-making. "It really is a boon for artists to have their
own framer and be able to work together,"
she admits. "It's very important as the frame finishes the work off. John also does framing commissions for other island artists.”
Margaret exhibits in other galleries on the mainland and in Ireland, and her unique views of the Hebrides can be found in collections throughout world.
Gallery 5 is well sign-posted from the main A858 road between the Callanish Stones and the Doune Carloway Broch. Open Monday to Saturday, 11am to 5pm, the gallery makes available a range of paintings, prints and greetings cards.
To see the landscapes of the Hebrides from Margaret's individual perspective, visit her gallery (postcode HS2 9DW) or head to her website www.gallery5hebrides.com, email mairead@ gallery5hebrides.com or phone 01851 621779.