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Paradise No Exit

In 1971 my family purchased, 'for a song', a large run down property beside the sea at Arisaig on the West Coast of Highland Scotland. As we slowly tackled its various problems, I started to uncover the story of its past. It had been built by two ladies, Constance Astley and her friend and companion Margaret Shaen, was designed by George Jack at Wm Morris & Co and was completed in 1903.

Well educated ladies from wealthy families, Connie was a follower of the Arts & Crafts Movement and Margaret a staunch Unitarian. Both had a strong sense of social engagement with the local community.

During my longer stays at the house I had taken up spinning and natural dyeing then learned that Connie before me had been a skilled spinner, dyer and weaver. I moved my photographic darkroom to the house and found a space that been purpose built as Margaret's photographic darkroom. After entering Art School I realised what an accomplished artist Connie had been.

When Jill de Fresnes wrote her book about Connie and Margaret's trip to New Zealand I realised there was yet another linked aspect to our lives. I had spent three years in New Zealand in the 1960's and had lived in or visited most of the places recorded in Connie's Journal.

And so I decided to re-visit these places in the 21st century, projecting my own life and thinking back into the past and absorbing experiences from the past into my own life today. I was creating a sense of historical connection at a personal and social level across time and place and allowing this to influence my thoughts and actions.

This exhibition is in the style of a three dimensional journal spread across an exhibition space.

As I travelled I considered Connie's own references to the 'earthly paradise' she lived in at Arisaig and the whole nature of travel and adventure - our reasons for setting off around the world. What is it we seek and why do we recognise and feel it more deeply in a foreign land.

Paradise is a personal quest, a state of mind not a place, but is the place necessary to find the state of mind? Or is the place just a substitute, a false place that signifies the balance and peace we have to find within ourselves or a space in which to escape the pressure of daily reality and gain deeper connection with the neglected experiential nature of our being?

Supported by a Scottish Arts Council Professional Development award

Images opposite show exhibition installation at Birnam Institute Perthshire and additional large images. The project is ongoing.

My journey through NZ can be found as a Blog at

All images on this site are copyright of the artist