Bonhoga Gallery


Janette Kerr: Extreme Wave Theory, Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale Mill, Shetland

June 25th - August 14th 2011, (neatly coinciding with the Tall Ships Race in Lerwick)


Preparation for the show

The exhibition represents the end of the first stage of an Arts Council funded research project on the interface between art and science.

On show in the top gallery are large-scale drawings and canvases, together with a series of small en-plein-air paintings, drawings, and sketchbooks, plus transparent boxes of sea water

containing 18th century documents relating to the fishing trade. The room resonates with images of dramatic waves and wild sea.


I have uploaded images of the work currently on show, for those of you who cannot get to Shetland to see the show.


Bound for the Skerries, chalk, charcoal & graphite on canvas, 116x200cm (46"x80")

Brimfooster ll oil on canvas, 152x122cm 48"x60"

During my visits to Shetland I’ve wandered into the Archives at Lerwick Museum to read 18th & 19thC documents relating to the fishing trade, and first-hand accounts by survivors of 19thC fishing disasters, and then visited sites where such tragedies occurred. I’ve learnt about mussel farming, discussed fish with Scalloway fishmongers, and the lure of the sea whilst buying turps in Lerwick’s DIY store. talked to boat-builders, net-makers, historians, archivists, scientists, story-tellers, artists and poets. I’ve been out on the sea - amongst the voes with a Scalloway creel fisherman, travelled with the pilot boat from Sullom Voe oil terminal to meet a tanker from India, I’ve clung to the sides of a tiny ferry on route to the Outer Skerries, waves washing over the deck as we pitched and rolled in a force 8 while I attempted to draw. I’ve sat in snow painting and drawing until my fingers froze, been blown by gusts of wind, drenched by spray and sleet, returning home with salt-encrusted skin.

It all gets inside your head, and now I’m lost in the world of Shetland and the sea. I have so much material it’s terrifying looking at it all; difficult to know where to start and when to stop.


Where black meets grey and in-between, charcoal/chalk/graphite/acrylic on cartridge paper, 59x147cm 23”x 58”

Section of drawing with poem by Laura Freidlander

Private view

Hold fast the sheet, oil on canvas with photographic element, 100x100cm 40"x40"

Mixed media on board, each 30x30cm 12”x12”

Battling with the Villains of Ure, charcoal/chalk/graphite and gesso on canvas, 120x190cm 47"x75"


Gallery talk

White light, red light, oil & coloured pencil with photographic element on canvas,122x152cm 48"x60"

En-plein-air paintings: oil on canvas & board each 295x295mm 11½”x11½”

Pillier, Da Skerries V, oil on board, 295x295mm 11½”x11½”

I’ve realized how different it is to make drawings and paintings from the experience of being on the sea as opposed to drawings and paintings made from the rocks, and this has affected the work I’ve been making. Some of the documents and artifacts I found in the museum have crept into my paintings, along with oceanographic imagery from the Bergen Meteorological office.


Convergence zone (triptych), oil & graphite with photographic element on canvas, 80x165cm 31½”x65”

The science/art aspect is the most challenging area of my research. It too has been having an affect on my work, and the second part of the project will focus more upon oceanographers’ research on extreme waves, and will be shown in Norway hopefully in 2012. The very precise and scientific procedures that mathematicians and scientists employ in studying the sea seems such a contrast with the way I, as an artist work, but in fact we both seek the same ends: to come to an understanding with and of nature.


Every seventh wave, charcoal/chalk/graphite on cartridge paper, 112x 150cm 44”x 59”

Brimfooster l oil on canvas, 122x152cm 48"x60"

Collecting sea water

Stories from the sea, 18th&19thC facsimile documents under seawater

I would like to thank Trevor Jamieson who made me four beautiful 18th & 19th century facsimile documents that I have installed under sea-water in the gallery. Together these documents tell a story – from the fishermen’s agreements, and the delivery of a sixareen boat, to the receipt for barrels of ling and herring, and note about a fisherman still being in debt to the laird at the end of fishing season and having to promise him half a horse and foal.


Gallery views

A heavy sea running, charcoal/chalk/graphite on cartridge paper, 113x180cm 43”x70”

A benker and a burrik, charcoal/chalk/graphite on cartridge paper, 58x112cm, 23”x47”

Work can also be seen on board the MV Hrossey, Aberdeen – Lerwick, Northlink ferry
Work on board NorthLink ferry

A catalogue of the work on show at the Bonhoga Gallery will be available.

I will be giving a paper as part of a panel - Meteorological Imaginations - at the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference in London, Aug 31st – Sept 2nd.

I will also be presenting my research at the international oceanographic Extreme Wave Theory conference in Geneva in October (scary!). I hope to be showing some of my drawings at these conferences.




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