• Tony Davidson

The Sound of Silence and the Paradox of Quiet

Updated: Jun 13

This was written for one of Kilmorack Gallery's ikigai rooms, a contemplation space linked to the work of artists. It was inspired by Jane MacNeill's exhibition 'the silence of mountains.' Published in July 2020

Silence has been sought since the first noise. Older sounds are heard when the world is quiet: rumbles that a mountain remembers and the long-ago drift of the sea have a sub-surface presence. Winds carry faraway ghost-smells and sounds; and here, where the world is quiet, we sense these things. The healthy mind is called to come to a silent place to listen.

When we listen to mountains, we yearn for untrodden ground and ancient pilgrim route alike, and we feel the quickening of trees and deer. In silence we connect to all things. This is why the first artists painted at the far end of a cave deep within the earth. Maybe they could hear more subtle sounds than we can hear now when the Earth was without roads, planes and cities? But the quiet artistic muse continues. In Kilmorack Gallery many of our artists follow this long tradition but do it above ground, making the most of Scotland’s quiet natural songs.

Listen to the silence.
It has so much to say.


Now living in Shetland Paul Boomer’s artistic career is one that has gone from the loud chaos of the industrial ‘Black Country.’ Here he painted crowds, crucifixions, drink and drugs. After moving to Shetland in nineteen-ninety-seven, Bloomer discovered silence and found the time to listen to birds. Life and his work changed. We have had two recent exhibitions of his etchings: The Return of the Light and Entering the Dark. Both show the prophetic power of silence.

Other artists in Kilmorack also show this quality. The deeply textured boats, bowls and books of Peter White are completely void of sound but vibrate between our auditory world and another place, in another dimension, that is now quiet. They sit, paradoxical, where silence is a sound.

Allan MacDonald has sought quietness for all the twenty-five years I have known him. This has taken him from the Western Isle to the Shetlands, St Kilda and Canada. It is the quietness that distils his work down to the essence of land, God and sea. Quietness, for MacDonald, creates a moment that must be captured, brought home and painted.

This year, two of our main exhibitions are about silence and the connections it brings: Jane MacNeill’s The Silence of Mountains and Peter David’s A Sense of Place. Jane MacNeill revisits the Cairngorm mountains of her childhood. The mountains – Larig Ghru, Carn Elrig and Beinne Liath Mhor a Ghuibas Li - provide calm, a marvellous e

mptiness. The less MacNeill includes in her work, the more powerful it becomes. It is a form of artistic homeopathy, an attempt to distil the feeling of calm-silence the mountain gives. When we look at MacNeill’s work, we are forced to look harder: at the feathered edges of a treed hill or the merest suggestion of wind blowing at the hilltop. By looking harder, we also listen harder.

A Sense of Place, to Peter Davis is around his studio on the west coast of Shetland. There are no houses other than his own for miles, just sea, cliff and process. Shetland is like no other place and he has trodden around here so many times that its essence has entered him. When this happens, silence is no longer quietness. This muse has led Davis from Cumbria, to Orkney and now Shetland.

Maybe the solutions to modern problems can be found in removing noise, and listening to silence.

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