“I’ve always been involved in art, in one way or another,” says Catriona Black from her home in the Dutch village of Santpoort-Noord.
As a former art critic for the Sunday Herald, an illustrated children’s book author, and a short film animator, Catriona’s art career has been wide and varied – and is about to take another turn when her first solo exhibition is launched at Faclan, the Hebridean Book Festival, later this month.
“Forradh: Sly Cooking,” which opens on 28th October at An Lanntair, is an exhibition of Catriona’s linocut illustrations of lost Gaelic words from Eriskay and South Uist, words that were first collected in the 1890s by Father Allan Macdonald, a 19th century priest, poet, and folklorist, and published by John L. Campbell in Ireland in the 1950s.
Catriona, who was brought up speaking Gaelic in Edinburgh, became inspired by the book after she moved to the Netherlands in 2011, and was contemplating her next project. Through this she discovered printmaking, and a whole new realm of art, before eventually coming back to the book and bringing the two together.
“There’s a lot of humanity, and humour, and character in these words, and I love that,” Catriona says of the project. “For me, Gaelic is about people, and communication, and collective feeling, and that’s what I really want to bring out in this collection of words.”
Some of her favourites include “Mionagadanan,” which describes particles seen in a ray of sunlight coming into a house, and “Glaigeil,” a reference to the noise that women make when they get together. “There are lots about women – some of them are less complimentary! – but I’ve chosen to give them a bit of a twist in my illustrations,” she explains.
For each of the 42 words, Catriona created a linocut illustration, made by hand in her shed, often with Radio nan Gaidheal playing in the background. “It’s a very zen-like activity,” she says. “If you make a single mistake, it’s not digital, there’s no ‘edit.’ You can’t go back again, and either you live with it, or you ditch it and you start again. I think it’s the honesty of that, that really appeals to me.”
The Faclan exhibition will double as the launch of Catriona’s book of the same name, “Sly Cooking,” published by Acair, and on 30th October, a documentary following her visit to South Uist and Eriskay, in search of these lost words, will air as part of Trusadh on BBC Alba.
“Hopefully the book will attract people to it in a way that the original dictionary attracted me, and hopefully these words will stick in their heads,” says Catriona. “Even people that don’t speak a word of Gaelic, I’d like them to look at it and think: ‘That’s a brilliant word, why is there no word like that in English?’”
(http://lanntair.com/events/event/forradh-sly-cooking/ exhibition launch in An Lanntair on Saturday 28 October at 6pm)