To Biggar from Brownsbank depicts Brownsbank Cottage the last home of poet Hugh MacDiarmid and his wife Valda Trevlyn Grieve. Nestled within the landscape, the roof of the cottage is visible just above the treeline on the lower right. Across the road is Candymill Farm – their closest and kindly neighbours during their years in Brownsbank. The cottage lies just east of the town of Biggar and this road is one which MacDiarmid will have walked up and down many times.
Ruth Nicol’s project, of which To Biggar from Brownsbank is an eminent work, was to take Alexander Moffat’s painting Poets’ Pub (1980, National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh) as a starting point. She has travelled Scotland to depict the landscapes associated with each of the seven poets in Moffat’s painting. Her series of sketches and paintings related to Hugh MacDiarmid, in keeping with MacDiarmid’s expansive life and work, is wide-ranging, from the south of Scotland (Langholm, Biggar) to the far north (Whalsay, Shetland).
“In the tradition of Scottish landscape painting, Ruth Nicol’s work is quite different from that of the now famous Scottish Colourists. . . .[she] is equally subject-specific but much more objective and clear-sighted in the understanding of place in relation to its living and recent inhabitants. . . . Ruth Nicol’s paintings open questions and give answers to them we might not have thought of otherwise. . . . There is a multi-dimensional quality to each painting. Each has the topographic accuracy of a map and the visual co-ordination of a photograph, but each goes much further than either a map or photograph could, to evoke and spark up perceptions of depth, individuality, interconnectedness and coherence. They are intrinsically optimistic works, essentially curious, comprehensively exhilarating.” – Alan Riach and Alexander Moffat in RUTH NICOL: Three Rivers Meet (Linlithgow: The Line Gallery Publishing, 2015)
Acrylic on canvas
Photo courtesy John Reiach