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In the summer of 2003 I spent a holiday on the island of Lewis and Harris. The landscape of the Western Isles is (for the most part) muted — huge expanses of peat are interspersed with a maze of lochs and streams and outcrops of bare, ice-eroded rock, without a clear sense of form or pattern. As a landscape artist accustomed to working in the Pennines I suddenly found myself visually disorientated. Even so, I felt compelled to engage with what I saw and began sketching, taking notes and photographs.
On my return to Bradford it became clear that what I had gathered, although in many ways different from my usual material, displayed one striking continuity with it. The ancient stone circles of Calanish had really arrested my attention and the theme of rock persisted, although in a new form.
I have never been entirely convinced by, or interested in, the imaginative attempts to reconstruct the prehistoric religious purposes which have formed the substance of so much speculation surrounding these ancient sites. What caught my own imagination was the similarity of our responses today to these great stones and the way in which we feel the natural charisma of other great rock-formations which have no attested "religious" pedigree. To the extent that we do experience a sense of "holiness" in their presence, this does not depend upon our knowledge of their original purposes. It is the activation of our own spiritual sensitivity in these places which matters and not some kind of vicarious religious experience.
In the attempt to explore these ideas I undertook a series of paintings which range in their subject matter from Calanish, on Lewis, to the stone circles of my local Ilkley Moor. They encompass not only recognised sites of ancient ritual practice, but also natural rocks which seems to me to merit equally the title of "holy stones"
I encountered the Manchester artist Paul Neads when he exhibited at the South Square Centre in Bradford in 2005. His interest in the ancient stone circles resonated with my own, although it became clear that we take contrasting approaches to the material and work in different media. A touring exhibition on this theme, jointly with Paul, was presented at a number of different venues in the UK throughout 2007 and 2008. Subsequently I have added several items with a related interest.
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