Three Rivers Meet at Falkirk’s Park Gallery

Artist Ruth Nicol, whose new exhibition 'Three Rivers Meet' is at Falkirk's Park Gallery until April 18. Picture: Michael Gillen
Artist Ruth Nicol, whose new exhibition 'Three Rivers Meet' is at Falkirk's Park Gallery until April 18. Picture: Michael Gillen

They were a group of loosely connected poets from across the country whose writing had a profound impact on 20th century Scots culture.

Now the work of George Mackay Brown, Robert Garioch, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, Edwin Morgan and Iain Crichton Smith has inspired a new exhibition of paintings at Falkirk’s Park Gallery by Ruth Nicol.

‘Three Rivers Meet’ opened to the public on Monday and will be free to view at Callendar House until April 18.

The exhibition contains several impressive landscape paintings of the varying parts of Scotland that were home to the poets, including Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as more remote settlements such as Plockton in the Highlands and Langholm in the Borders.

Nicol (47), from Glasgow, was inspired to create the series of artworks by ‘Poet’s Pub’, a 1980 portrait by acclaimed artist Alexander Moffat of an imaginary meeting of the seven men for a drink.

“Poet’s Pub is always on your horizon as an artist, as Sandy Moffat is such a giant,” she told The Falkirk Herald. “At art school you realised that everyone was looking at stuff that led to Sandy, like Peter Howson, and then I started putting things together and realised this guy was important.

“If you want to understand Scottish culture, you can look at ‘Poet’s Pub’ and follow all the leads and trails he’s laid down for us, and you can understand the length and breath of the country in a social, economic and political context.”

By painting the landscapes that forged the poets, Nicol has also illustrated the bonds - both physical and imagined - that tie together the nation. The fact they were painted in 2014 was also deliberate, highlighting the diversity of the nation at a time of collective reassessment.

Nicol’s paintings regularly feature abstract views of water, set against precise representations of buildings, bridges and boats.

“People need to be able to recognise the location in the painting, but you’re trying to push and pull,” she explained.

“I work in acrylics, but they have a high gloss varnish - a lot of people mistake them for oils. I take acrylic paint and work with it in any form - I really like the marbling effect, there’s so much that you can do with it.

“I’m trying to play about with the juxtaposition of us being in a landscape that’s controlled and formed by nature and geology, but we’re then imposing our own structures on it - it’s that dichotomy between structure and control, but when you go up to the boat it fades away into abstract again.”

Nicol became a full-time artist later in life after she was initially put off further education after suffering from dyslexia as a child.

“I wanted to go to art school, but I just didn’t understand school was for education,” she said. “I couldn’t read until I was 10. All I wanted was a safe job, it was only when I got older I realised art was something I wanted to do.”

As a result, she was new to a lot of the poet’s work - but already knew one of them personally.

“Edwin Morgan used to visit my parents’ house in Riddrie as he was a friend of my father, Jack O’Neill,” she said.

“When I was at Edinburgh College of Art, my lecturers were very keen for me to explore these cultural connections that existed in my background.”

‘Three Rivers Meet’ is at the Park Gallery, Falkirk, until April 18. Admission free.

Ruth Nicol will deliver a free, informal talk on ‘Three Rivers Meet’ on Saturday, February 14 from 11 a.m.-noon. Places are free, but must be booked in advance.

Ruth will also host a discussion with Alexander Moffat and Allan Riach at the Park Gallery on Friday, February 20 from 6-7.30 p.m. Tickets are £5.

Places for both events can be reserved by calling by calling (01324) 506850 or by visiting The Steeple box office in Falkirk High Street.