(soft pastel on medium water colour paper, 33cm x 24cm (65cm x 59cm framed))
A pastel that attempts to capture the marginal nature of many crofting townships established in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century as populations cleared from inland glens and straths were relocated to planned crofting settlements on the coasts. These were often on steep rocky and infertile sites ill suited for cultivation by plough. Indeed, the resettled crofters were expected to supplement their subsistence from their crofts with fishing and income from collecting and burning ‘kelp’ (seaweed) for potash on behalf of their landlords. The potash was used in the glassmaking industry. During the trade blockades of the Napoleonic wars that interrupted supplies from outwith the British Isles, potash from kelp earned Highland landlords sizable if short lived fortunes. It was the rapid decline in the kelp industry coupled with potato blight and famine that precipitated much of the emigration associated with the clearances.
The work adopts a high angle oblique view seemingly simultaneously tilting and flattening the pattern of crofter’s fields, both accentuating that distinctive pattern and emphasising its marginality and precarious position above the loch shore. The only significant detail is restricted to the fields themselves. Dwellings and other building have been omitted. The communal hill pasture rising above the township, the loch and the sky are rendered as flat areas of blended pastel pigment. The effect is to divide the picture plane into horizontal areas with little sense of recession thereby focusing attention on the field system. The thick black line delimiting the shore is a stylised reference to kelp. The overall result though representational nonetheless leans towards abstraction.