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By Alastair HamiltonJanuary 29th 2023
Alastair Hamilton

Shetland is home to many artists, some born in the islands, and some drawn here by the light and landscapes. Peter Davis is one of those adopted Shetlanders and his exhibition at the Shetland Museum and Archives, entitled Clear Sight, presents almost 40 watercolours inspired by those landscapes.

Peter has worked with watercolour all his life. He hails originally from north-east England and, after taking an art and design course, he taught for some years in Cumbria before moving to Orkney in 1981, where he set up his own gallery. Ten years later, he moved to Shetland. Now retired from teaching, he continues to paint and exhibit.

He has also taken inspiration from visits to Australia, the Netherlands, Iceland and voluntary service in West Africa. Peter is currently represented by several Scottish galleries and was recently honoured with the John Busby Award, presented by the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW).

On first acquaintance with the exhibition, it’s obvious that Shetland’s landscapes and seascapes, in their almost infinite variety, are at the heart of Peter’s work. He has drawn on impressions of sea, land and weather to produce a collection that ranges across a spectrum from representational to abstract. Sometimes, he told me, he feels that he’s gone too far in one or other direction, but that’s not a conclusion that any viewer would draw from this group of paintings. Right across the spectrum, there is a subtlety and delicacy that unites the collection.

Peter explained: “The title Clear Sight was suggested to me and seems appropriate as an exhibition title for various reasons. At a simplistic level, since I moved three years ago to Silwick, I now have a clear sight of the sea which has been a constant in my painting for decades. Clear sight also describes my sense of where I am now and where I want to be in developing my work in future.

“I have worked with the watercolour medium for over 40 years, but that doesn’t mean it ever gets any easier. You just go with the flow and learn to handle the mistakes better.”

It is perhaps the most transparent, indeed unforgiving, of painting media. Whereas work in oils or acrylic can be reshaped or even completely re-done, watercolour reveals every brushstroke, every wash of colour, leaving the trail of artistic intentions for all to see.

The result is a varied collection. Some have titles that locate them geographically, whereas others evoke weather or sea-states.

One of the delights of the show is a collection of Peter’s notebooks and observations. In one of them, he writes:

There’s a point at which the act of painting and the inherent action of nature align themselves and that frequently happens in watercolour. I consider it the most natural of all painting mediums, comprising pigment, a binder which mainly gum Arabic, and water, the drying process leaving the pigment on the surface. The two extremes of stillness and flow and the myriad activity between the two are part of the nature of watercolour and also characteristics of the northern landscapes. Weather and the seasons in particular play a crucial role and have always influenced my response to landscape. However, I have no wish to simply record what I see. I do not seek sedate topographies often associated with the term ‘watercolour landscapes.’ Instead, I prefer the uncertain balance between abstraction and reality.

Karen Clubb, exhibitions officer at Shetland Museum and Archives said: “We are honoured to have Peter’s work on display. He takes a nuanced approach in his work. Rather than portraying sedate, literal landscapes, Peter’s art portrays the uncertain balance between abstraction and reality, all using a subtle palette of colours and an imaginative use of white space that hints at what lies above and beneath the sea and land.

Karen continued: “As part of the learning programme that runs alongside the exhibition, Peter will be leading experimental watercolour workshops for both children and adults on Saturdays throughout February. An illustrated artist’s talk in Da Gadderie will also take place during the exhibition period. Keep an eye on the museum’s social media and website for forthcoming information.”

The exhibition at the Shetland Museum and Archives runs until 5 March 2023 and, judging from the numbers attending on the opening day, this will prove a very popular exhibition, and deservedly so. The paintings are available for sale.

You can also explore Peter’s website.