• Tony Davidson

How to steer a Canoe or Run a Gallery

Kilmorack Gallery in the snow

The old Kilmorack church that is now the gallery I run and the old waterfall that is now a dam have always sat at a crossing point. The name Kilmorack probably derives from ‘the church of Moroc,’ a once important figure but now a ghost. The nearby croft is Balnacrask, from place of the crossing because this is where people crossed the wide-flowing river Beauly before bridges were built. Timber was gathered from the woods along its length and floated downstream to the village.

I mention this because the gallery is still a crossing point. It is where studio-bound paintings and sculpture are first aired, where the energy of an artist’s struggles and delights are released to the world for the first time, and it is where people gather to be part of this experience. The lid of a metaphoric jar is lifted. Elements are brought together - the thoughts, purposes and places of a hundred artists erupting alchemically in this one space.

This is the truth of art and a gallery is only good if it can hold this truth. It is a wordless spell, cast with hands and intention, remembering the beautiful. A gallery is also a practical place.

Today new work arrives to be photographed and documented before a catalogue is produced for an exhibition in six weeks time. It is very high-tech, ‘paff,’ the flashbulb pops and Allan MacDonald’s bright ghost figure is caught in the camera. Next, I package a painting to be sent to New York. I have special blue foam and boxes which makes this exodus safe. The coffee machine whirrs and feeds a newly arrived client. All the time I think of new ways to enhance the space and look for potential talent to be unlidded here. ‘Sculpture,’ I muse, ‘It is so hard to find good sculpture.’ Twenty-five years ago, it was different: there was no internet, and hardly any mobile phones. There was an Amazon back then, but that one was full of trees. I was in my twenties and had just started the gallery. People visited and sometimes sent letters of interest afterwards. Time is like a river. You enter it and soon find yourself elsewhere.

How do you steer a canoe down a river or run a gallery? You sit or kneel where you see what lies ahead and steer your boat away from the water-trapped-trees which will catch you and end the journey prematurely. Sometimes you make powerful strokes, full of muscle and work. Steering is about knowing what direction to go, your purpose. In Kilmorack, it has always been the artists and their work that has given the most joy and, ultimately, it is the final unveiling that needs to be appreciated. It can easily go unseen, sometimes. But as we drift down the river, what is most needed often comes to hand if you steer well. You pick up skills: photography, print, words, lights, and you paddle like crazy to stay afloat and make the spectacle happen. This is how you steer a canoe or run a gallery.

Outside it is raining in Kilmorack and it is a quiet Sunday, but there is still a crask, a crossing. I am the ferryman. The river never stops flowing, especially now it is so full, and everyone can connect everywhere. I dream of an Amazon full of trees again and wonder what the river will bring tomorrow.

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