Marj Bond welcomes me into her house. From the front it looks just like a typical Fife cottage. As she takes me through to the back however I am transported into another world. The house has been extended into a large wooden conservatory where artworks and large fronds compete for space. The views stretch to the Lomond Hills in the distance.
Her surroundings inspire Bond, not to paint them realistically, but in a sensorial sense. The scents, light and colour of a place as well as its social and cultural attributes all impact on her mood, wellbeing and creativity. The revelatory moments that have transformed her practice over the years were triggered by her discovery of exciting new environments.
Oasis oil on canvas 106x106cm
After graduating from Glasgow School of Art, she was expected to settle down and teach in her home town of Paisley but instead escaped to go and teach in North Uist where the Hebridean landscape and the Gaelic culture had a powerful effect on her.
Then in 1988 Bond went for a three months sabbatical tour of India with James Gray, her soul mate and architect who designed their house extension. This experience changed her life. She absorbed all these stimuli, the people, animals and architectural details, in sketches and photographs and later back home in the intimacy of her studio conjured them up again in stylised and whimsical compositions in a variety of media with layers of handmade Indian paper for textured effect and compelling colours.
Kashmiri Shrine silkscreen print 75x106cm
Intuitive glyphs and motifs started to appear, retrieved from her innermost self. The artist cannot explain their meaning, they simply take shape as she works out a question or a problem. Painting is therapy for her.
Her palette which had been subdued until then was now vibrant and her subsequent exhibition ‘Images of India’ at the Open Eye Gallery was a great success. She went on many more trips to colourful destinations such as Cuba, Mexico and Southern Spain. She mentions the influence that the allegorical paintings of Zapotec-Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo had on her work.
Children of the Conquistadores etching 51x42cm
In recent years Bond has become fascinated by Mary Queen of Scots and has painted several portraits of her. Mary had strong connections with Fife through Falkland Palace, the Scottish kings’ hunting retreat and her imprisonment in Lochleven Castle. The artist has deliberately exaggerated the oblong face. This elongation and the simplification of features are characteristic of Bond’s style and convey tension and emotion. Such stylisation is reminiscent of so-called primitive masks and of Alberto Giacometti’s work for instance that Bond admires. The long narrow nose stretches almost the whole length of the face to emphasise the wistful eyes and tight mouth.
Mary Queen of Scots Imprisoned in Loch Leven mixed media 23x23cm
image courtesy of the artist
Mary’s golden headdress shines like the halo of religious iconography, Eastern and Western alike, a suggestion reinforced by the gold cross showing under her ruff and by the flame-like cartouche above her head that bears her monogram. Her deathly-pale face appears to be floating against the dark background, alluding to her tragic end, a queen and a martyr saint all at once.
Bond speaks of Mary’s fate with great empathy, how she had to give up the sensuous French court for the oppressive Scotland of John Knox, a destiny in reverse to her own it seems as her discovery of India and other inspiring countries fulfilled her passionate temperament.
She is currently working on a portrait of Joyce Laing, the Fife-based champion of ‘Outsider Art’ and pioneer of art therapy in Scotland. She hopes it will be exhibited in due course as a tribute to the sitter. Bond’s appreciation of this art form outside fine art conventions is entirely consistent with her own practice.
Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh
With thanks to Marj Bond
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