ANGUS MCPHEE - Weaver of Grass

ANGUS MCPHEE or MACPHEE was a crofter from Uist who spent almost 50 years in a Highland psychiatric hospital. During this time he chose not to speak - instead he wove a series of incredible costumes out of grass. These he hung on trees in the hospital grounds.

This blog follows the progress of HORSE + BAMBOO THEATRE as they develop and tour a show about Angus....

Saturday, 24 August 2013

A key turns in the door

The show that really excited me most in Edinburgh was the Peter Doig exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery. I don't much distinguish between theatre, performance or visual art exhibitions. Doig's work I had seen before in reproduction and the odd single painting, but not en masse as in this exhibition.

Peter Doig: Jetty

Walking through the exhibition I had to consider my expectations of what painting was about; what constitutes pure painting; what place does narrative and commentary (of a kind) play in the visual arts. Thinking about the experience of Doig's show, and reading the catalogue afterwards I felt a key turn in the door.

Angus, from Angus - Weaver of Grass

When creating Angus – Weaver of Grass I struggled with the facts of Angus MacPhee's life, and it's setting (at the beginning) in the (to me) exotic place of South Uist. How to represent the place; how to represent the culture of the place; how to do this without lapsing into stereotypes. Then how to do the same for Angus's wartime experience and his decline into a madness, and then the half-century spent in Craig Dunain hospital. Doig's paintings do the same – whether it's painting the Canada he grew up in, or Trinidad where he now lives. The exhibition is titled after Robert Louis Stevenson's words: 

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign”.

Doig's paintings constantly show him wrestling with memory and place through the medium of paint. As a result they frequently have an awkward quality, and it takes effort and time to enjoy this. I feel the same way about aspects of Angus – Weaver of Grass, such as the move into a self-conscious archaism with the Knight and the Dragon, and the mish-mash of movement, film and imagery in the war-time descent to illness scene.

Peter Doig: Young Bean Farmer

A few people have commented on their frustration on the continually changing way that we tell the story of Angus, and I compare this with the way that Doig continually struggles to keep his canvases alive and rich with meaning. I consider a 'good' performance of the play is when the audience are alert to the happenings and stories and ideas on stage but don't think too much about the way we achieve them – rather they feel them, enjoy and sense them, in the way I eventually felt myself drawn into Dog's paintings.  

1 comment:

  1. love this entry Bob - really tangible that struggle