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Painting Nature's Wheel | photographing Allan MacDonald


Allan MacDonald at the gorge's edge

We push the trees aside and enter. Today’s mission is to take photographs of Allan

MacDonald for this catalogue. I have chosen this place because it reminds me of a Tom Thomson painting. There is a gorge that gravitates dangerously to the black water below, and above are pine and birch trees which extend their roots into the abandoned old road. If they lose their grip, there will be a large splash thirty meters below. How quickly things are forgotten and how majestic is nature’s return.

Allan MacDonald has had many exhibitions in Kilmorack over the twenty-five years I have known him, but this time it is different. He has looked beyond Scotland towards Canada where his artistic hero Tom Thomson painted and imprinted his vision on the nation. Most of the smaller works in this exhibition were painted there, on the banks of Thomson’s lakes in Algonquin land.

MacDonald has also looked deeper into the weave of the landscape. In nature new life and death rotate through the seasons, creating wonder whenever the wheel is stopped. Arrested for a moment, and a special beauty is revealed. The artist can catch it and hold it. Our own lives are not very different. We too spin through the seasons.

‘Do you find that you have to turn your whole body to look backwards now, not just your neck?’ he asks me. MacDonald and I are almost the same age. He is now a father, and these are the paintings of a more mature artist. There is a fearlessness in this body of work that comes with experience. When you look closely, nature has wefts and weaves of incredible colour - golds, greens, pinks and blues – and these are not easy to paint. It is like staring at the sun, but somehow MacDonald has managed to harness this life-giving light with an honest eye. There is an ecstatic quality in many of these paintings. The titles tell stories: reverie (lost in a daydream of thoughts,) promised land, the living and the dead, rapture, river trance – of being there and experiencing a connection that people, animals and plants have always felt. This is what it is like to live in nature’s wheel, MacDonald tells us, and few artists paint it as well.

‘Click’ I take a photograph, a moment, and afterwards MacDonald stares down into the gorge composing a new painting in his head.

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