In the latest exhibition at Dundee art district’s Kathryn Rattray Gallery, photographer Bill Duncan proves himself to be one of the true multihyphenate artists on the scene.
Weather of the Mind, a month-long exhibition which opened with a Covid-safe staggered launch on June 25, combines photography with original paintings, haiku and even a bespoke soundscape to provide an approachable, multimedia experience.
First conceived after a chance meeting in the Tesco Riverside car park between Bill and gallery owner Kathryn, the exhibition finally launched with a successful opening night, during which five of the thirteen photographs were sold.
Kathryn puts this all down to the art, and the artist.
“What was amazing about working with Bill,” she explains, “is he always goes a little bit further than needed. You say: ‘What about this?’ and what he comes up with is even greater.
“Everything we talked about, he executed it and more, every single time.”
Weather of the Mind
For Dundee-based Fifer Bill, author of The Smiling School For Calvinists, the exhibition is a celebration of the outdoor places that help make up a person’s inner landscape.
“It’s called Weather of the Mind and the title is actually quite significant,” Bill explains. “On an obvious level, it’s landscape photography, so there’s a lot of weather – landscapes, seascapes, treescapes.
“But also the ‘mind’ from the title, because all the places here are ones I have an emotional attachment to. All the places you see are Scottish and they’re all places I know really well, so that kind of emotional dimension, to me, is quite important.”
The exhibition takes in the familiar and the remote, with some photographs shot just across the water at Tentsmuir, some even in Bill’s own back garden. But other pieces are inspired by places further afield.
“Quite an important part of my practice is painting,” Bill goes on, “So there’s two big landscape paintings. And again they’re two places that mean quite a lot to me. There’s a north-east corrie, at Lochnagar in the Cairngorms, which is probably my favourite place in the world.
“And the other one is a glacier in Iceland. I’ve been to Iceland three times; Iceland is starting to get under my skin.”
More than black-and-white thinking
For those who normally seek a lot of colour, Bill’s stark black-and-white exhibition may not immediately appeal. But the range of elements, including poetry, artefacts and sound recordings, creates a strong sensory experience that isn’t solely visual.
the psychedelic dance
of forest and sky.”
Bill Duncan, title haiku for photograph of Tentsmuir Forest
“I’ve taught myself to see in black and white, in the sense that what interests me is texture, tone and form,” he says. And that can be seen in the photographs, but also in the extra elements of Weather Of The Mind – such as the collected natural objects.
“There’s a seal skull, gannet skulls, antlers… something from some kind of sea creature,” Bill laughs, gesturing to two giant tusk-like bones, “and some whale bones.
All the photographs that you see are bound up with all the artefacts that you see – they’re not just picked up from anywhere. So they all kind of cohere.”
And the 3D approach doesn’t stop there, with Bill’s self-recorded soundscape providing a cherry-on-top backdrop to the work on offer.
“There’s a soundscape and it’s quite important because it’s gives you almost an immersive experience when it’s on,” he explains. “It’s got waves from Orkney beaches, a tern colony, a burn in Cairngorms – stuff like that.”
This is the Bill’s first foray into using sound in his work, and it has a freshness to it because of that.
“I learned a lot from the process as well,” he says. “I could’ve gone on YouTube and got them off the net. But instead I went out to the tern colony. So I was kind of extending my own practice too, by doing that.
“And from the emotional point of view, it’s quite interesting, because if you have these soundtracks, and you listen to them, you’re back in the landscape where you made that. So it was a good thing to learn how to do.
“People ask: ‘Are you a painter or a photographer or writer?’ Well, I’m all three! I’ll be describing myself as a ‘sound artist’ before you know it!”