Laura Drever - Island Life

Laura Drever - Island Life

‘Island life is a school for learning, discipline, acceptance & humility. What you say, think & are – the spoken word, could travel from island to island like a stone & its ripple into distance – the elements being so powerful keep you to size – then these beautiful dark half moon shapes of reflection of clouds on the distant fields + hills give a sense of constant change + re-newal – of impermanence.’ Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

One of Orkney's highlight shows this year was, ‘Inspirational Journeys - Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’ at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. It features a beautiful glimpse into Barns-Graham's travels in Europe over a 50-year period, including the time she spent in Orkney in 1984 and 85. The paintings and drawings in this exhibition reveal just how deeply inspiring the Orkney landscape was to her.


 'September Orkney' by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham


There’s a long tradition of artists porducing work inspired by the Orkney landscape. Stanley Cursiter was a distinguished portraitist, but from the start of his career he was also interested in landscape, and it came to dominate his output. Ian MacInnes repeatedly explored the streets of Stromness as well as the cliffs of the West Mainland. Sylvia Wishart invariably portrayed local scenes, especially Rackwick and Ootertoon, often framed by, or refracted through, a window.



In recent years Laura Drever has emerged as the most original and accomplished landscape artist now working in Orkney. Her works – whether drawing, print or oil painting – are immediately recognisable as capturing something essentially Orcadian. This is remarkable, considering how multi-layered and complex many of her pieces are, and how close they move towards abstraction. This summer she had a major solo show at the Pier Arts Centre, Teebro, which confirmed her reputation as a major Orkney artist. 



Teebro is an Orkney Norn word, meaning ‘shimmering summer light.’ For nearly twenty years Laura has been travelling around Orkney delving into the ever-changing rhythms and reflections of the isles. 

Two equally mysterious – or rather multi-layered – paintings from the exhibition were ‘Dabal’ and ‘Lochan.’ These seemed to be further out in a particular direction than anything Drever has exhibited before. The intensity of the dark blue and aquamarine ground has the effect of thrusting forwards the yellow, gold, and light green orbs at their centre. Were we looking at planets in space, or shoals of circling fish, or light moving on bodies of water? The titles suggest the latter, but the paintings are so rich in hue, so luminous and laminous, so full of movement that nothing is simple or certain.  We’re in a zone where what we’re really seeing is the effect of the landscape on the mind, or the retina, of the artist, rather than the landscape itself.



Back in the summer, as Laura was making final preparations for Teebro, she took time out to show us around her studio in Kirkwall. She also let us accompany her on one of her daily walks in the countryside (in this case, to the top of Wideford Hill). 

What is so enchanting about Laura's work is how she captures the essence of Orkney and that sense of ‘change, re-newal, impermanence,’ which Barns-Graham speaks of, in such a powerful and striking way.



We are excited to see what comes next from Laura in the new year. 

In the mean time, we'd  like to wish you all a happy and creative new year. To fellow Orcadians and visitors from afar, who like Barns-Graham have been inspired by their trips to our ever-changing isles. May island life continue to teach us 'discipline, acceptance & humility' in 2023.


Dingieshowe by Laura Drever


Discover more from Laura on her website and Instagram. And find out about Wihelmina Barns-Graham through her trust's site.

Many thanks to photographer Kevin Dutton who joined us on our trip to Laura's studio, beautifully capturing her at work and on her walk at Wideford Hill.