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It was a big decision at the time. To train in sculpture at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen and show such promise that a postgraduate year is awarded; and then to go back home to work on the fields and the sea. It could have seemed a turning away.

But in fact, when Ian Scott went back to North Ronaldsay in 1962, to work on the family croft at Antabreck and fish for lobsters, it was a step forward to enrich his art. The artist seeks forms in the world, going below the surface to find an essential line or swirl – and where better to find those forms that directly in the world of the sea and shore? That is where people might search, he wrote in 2005, for:

“Something which reminds them of the sea, a bird in flight, such as the forever gliding fulmar, or the graceful tern; sea shells and rock formations; the streamlined dogfish or the wonderfully engineered pincers of the sea-urchin; or curious-shaped seaweed, stone and broken shells that one finds every other fishing day in the lobster creel or along the shore.”

And to be out sowing a crop of oats or heading for the sea is to be directly immersed in natural forms, with the artist’s eyes seeing deeper amidst the wind and rain.

“I remember Egyptian sculpture with its monumental, simplified forms. I even remember days at sea – the artistry, if you like, of balancing in a small open boat against the moving waves with every fleeting view a work of art.”

He has reflected how the world of sea and land and sky shapes those who live and work among it.

“It seems to me that the work of the lobster fisherman, the dyke builder, farmer and wool knitter, writer, poet, musician and artist are all related. There is artistry in every kind of work we do.”

Over the years a substantial body of work has built up. There are commissioned sculptures, including the memorials to the Longhope and Fraserburgh lifeboatmen and to the Arctic explorer John Rae, heads of the artist Stanley Cursiter and the writer George Mackay Brown, and numerous exhibitions of oil paintings and watercolours of the island’s shore. And there is also the creative endeavour that he has put into the community itself, the way in which the Memorial Hall is brought alive with straw-work and greenery and lanterns for the Harvest Home, or the Community Centre transformed with red roses and candlelight for the Burns Supper, and the whole atmosphere of those events which draw back so many islanders and friends each year.

Could indeed the whole island be regarded as a work of art in progress?

“I believe it could. It would require a few touches of vibrant colour, such as young families.

More people would be around to help, just as we did in our early days. They would, most importantly, have to respect and carry on the best of the old traditions and customs, which cover almost every aspect of island life, and, at the same time, develop new opportunities.

Then possibly, a frame could be placed round the picture, and North Ronaldsay could be displayed for all to see.”

There have been long years of change since he returned in 1962, with a declining population and differing ways in agriculture, but now new islanders are arriving and young islanders, resident or expatriate, are each adding their own piece of colour to enrich the living island. In the year of his 80th birthday, a retrospective of his artwork has been made possible by an online exhibition system and much dedicated work by three generations of cousins in America, and the feeling about it combines the delight of looking through scenes in past photographs with the feeling of something fresh blowing in from the sea on a spring morning.

The exhibition ‘Ian Scott – A Retrospective’ can be seen online at the Artsteps site.

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