On a Raised Beach

Hugh MacDiarmid
Hugh MacDiarmid – On a Raised Beach. Ink on paper. 56.5cm x 37.9cm. From the collection of James Robertson and Marianne Mitchelson, Angus, Scotland

Running parallel to my new work will be a commission from friend and collaborator James Robertson to make visual representations of the poem On a Raised Beach by Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid (born Christopher Murray Grieve 1892, died 1978). The poem was written in 1934 while MacDiarmid lived with his wife and son on the island of Whalsay, Shetland and is heavy with geological references; it is however much more than just a treatise on the Earth’s structural characteristics. 

The poem weaves between geology and religion, science and love, exploring and musing with MacDiarmid’s love of language. I am drawn to the poem for many reasons: the first, as it has thematic unity with my preoccupations of place and humanity’s intervention with it, and allusions to rock and sea.

Perhaps most importantly it is its fundamental complexity that will motivate and test me. It has no narrative to follow; that in itself will challenge me, but what I find most exciting is that it will coax me towards a different way of visualising text, perhaps looking at it as a more abstract project to what I’m used to.

As the new work progresses I will no doubt come across obstacles that will frustrate me and surprises that will provoke and spur me on. Nothing will be ‘expected’. I will welcome that.