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Callanish

Going to Lewis was a long overdue trip. After visits to stones in Cornwall and England I’d been pondering a visit to the Scottish Isles for a while, and when the budget finally firmed up and I was looking for an oppo my brother enthusiastically stepped up. We’d spent a great weekend at the Pitt Rivers collection a couple of years before, so the prospect of a road trip was fine.

After a couple of nights in Orkney (another story) we set off around Cape Wrath to Ullapool, taking in ruined castles

and the occasional Landseer. The colours were indescribable; despite plenty of picture making experience I realised this landscape required years of connection in order to establish a palette. On this first fly-through at 45 KPH the main impression was of multicloloured granite, and the fact that what you’re looking at most of the time is lichen.

And just like a trip to the seaside, you can’t bring the colours back to your house. The only images that I’ve found so far that mix the required sensibilty with a process I understand are Norman Wilkinson’s railway posters

this being a layout for Galloway courtesey of the National Railway Museum. Maybe someday I’ll have the opportunity to do this extraordinary place justice. After a dizzying drive, a millpond crossing (to my seasick brother’s delight) and a ghost train drive at night along the Lewis back roads we poled up at our digs at Marvig. Now that’s were you get lichen.

Now’s not the time to go into this mind-blowing organism; suffice to say that the word ‘symbiosis’ was invented to describe it, and it seems possible that it can live on Mars. Anyways, off to Callanish next day. And what a day; clear, inexplicable colours, and a ceremonial site stretching over 40 odd hectares. The first impression of the main site is of length

these pages from the sketchbook being kindasorta in sequence. Somehow the films of Wes Anderson came to mind.

Overall these stones are full of character, which was going to take some time to pin down. As with all megaliths, we can have absolutely no idea why they’re there. They’re from a time before writing, and may actually be a form of writing themselves. All we know is humans, probably healthier than us but with shorter lives, had enough time and devotional energy to build sites like this all across Northern Europe. They are odes to the power of agriculture, and represent a major imposition on the environment, probably made long after we had changed the landscape irrevocably with our crops.

These subjects sustained my brother and I in conversation all the way back to England. Long story short, after several permutations with block prints and stencil, a series started to take shape, kicking off with ‘Congregation’

which is just about feasible as a single print, but in time-honoured Japanese tradition breaks down into two blocks for publication,

‘Nave’ (picking up on the cathedral-like cruciform of the main site)

and ‘Aisle’, continuing the theme. Moving North (the aisle is not aligned East-West like a Christian structure) brings us to ‘Moirai’

which got me to thinking of the three Fates. These stones are from before they were formalised, but the Druids will have read and understood Greek mythology.

Behind the Moirai, at the end of the West ‘transept’, a single stone looks over the sound. This could only be a ‘Sentinel’.

Haven’t really done justice to the range of stands around the main site, which are designated with Hibernian briskness as 2-5, but here is ‘2’. Somehow this feels like a garden behind the main structure, so this one’s called ‘Garth’.

So there they are in print. A trifle ephemeral compared to the real thing, but fun to do and a record of a great trip. The palette is stripped down to a symbolic range for now, but one day I’ll be back with time to engage with the subtleties on offer. If you like them they can be found for sale at HerbieW.com/Callanish. If you’ve anything you’d like to say or ask, you can drop a line on the ‘Contacts‘ page or find me at Facebook/Herb Wiersma.