Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Artist Uncovered: Iain Stewart

Close and connected

With pure luminosity reflecting on dark matter and vast expanses of sky, sea and land, Iain Stewart’s photographs have a dream-like quality that hovers on the threshold of consciousness. Are these balanced compositions the product of hours of digital wizardry? The answer is definitely not as I discover that this artist works only with film cameras for his Fine Art photography. 

Eve  30 x 40 cm
image courtesy of the artist

This means that all decisions regarding composition and light are made at the shooting stage as there will be no cropping, erasing or any other kind of image manipulation later, just nature’s magic captured at the right moment and from the right viewpoint.

Such perfect timing is hardly down to luck. Instead it relies on the artist’s thorough knowledge of the terrain, weather conditions and seasonal fluctuations and on his profound connection with the landscape.

Path 98   60 x 60 cm
AiH Collection

And indeed Iain Stewart needs that emotional trigger. His landscapes are either familiar places he frequents often or special places that he empathises with immediately, like Cape Wrath. Born in Yorkshire of Scottish parents who were both doctors, he regularly visited Scotland while growing up, loved it and always knew that this was where he would eventually settle down.

Closing   90 x 90 cm
image courtesy of the artist

He chose to study textile design at Edinburgh College of Art in the 1980s but was always drawn towards painting and photography which was not yet a full curriculum, and inspired by great photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. He was however able to do a Master degree in photography, the only student on the course, and this is where he learnt his skills from his tutor and mentor Murray Johnson. This somewhat circuitous approach taught him not to let technicality get in the way and hinder his creativity.

Sound   76 x 100 cm
image courtesy of the artist

He recalls that his first body of work was a series of portraits of his father’s patients from the newly born to the terminally ill. This assignment proved to be a determining experience that made him aware of that special connection between practitioner and patient. It was also to bring him some important commissions from the medical field later in his career. 
Stewart’s commercial practice is in complete contrast with his Fine Art photography. Not only is it all digital but also, while his landscapes are very quiet and devoid of the human figure, his commissioned works are all about people and Stewart recognises that one could not exist without the other.

Tender   76 x 100 cm
image courtesy of the artist

They are opposite and at the same time share the same process. In both cases the artist gets closer and closer to his subject and this closeness together with the removal of all superfluous information, combine to deliver a universal message. His images are not about that particular horizon or that particular patient but about that fleeting and all enveloping moment when connectivity and healing can happen.

Spindrift   30 x 40 cm
image courtesy of the artist

Iain Stewart has works in the Sanctuary of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, a non-denominational space for reflection and prayer where his meditative and immersive seascapes fittingly welcome visitors, drawing them in with uninterrupted lines and colours.

He exhibits widely at home and abroad and is represented in many collections including that of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
He is currently working towards a solo exhibition to be shown in the autumn in the Wild Space, the John Muir Trust visitor centre in Pitlochry.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

With thanks to Iain Stewart

For further information

Iain Stewart's website and blog:
The Sanctuary, The Royal Infirmary Edinburgh: 
The Wild Space: 

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.

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