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Caithness artist's work on show at the Royal Academy of Arts

By Jean Gunn

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Caithness artist Steve Macleod has had his work accepted for the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts Summer/Winter Exhibition in London.

Steve (55), who describes himself as an artist that uses photography, said: "I am delighted to be exhibiting at this year’s show – it’s been an incredibly difficult challenge for us all in many ways and to have the summer show on, albeit in winter, is a fantastic boost for the arts."

He had two pieces short-listed and it is the first year his work has been featured at the exhibition.

The show only opened on Tuesday (October 6) and already the exhibit has been sold for £1488, and there was only one unframed print still available from the very limited edition of three.

Commenting on the quick sale, Steve, a visiting professor at the University of Suffolk, said: "You can never know what to expect, it is always a pleasant surprise. Knowing that other people are getting enjoyment from your work is the main thing."

The accepted piece is called Indigo3 and is selected from a wider series completed over several years which reflects the artist's state of mind and recurring dreams during a period in hospital.

Indigo3 installed along with some of the other exhibits at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
Indigo3 installed along with some of the other exhibits at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Originally from Thurso but now based in London, the artist said: "I have a high functioning bipolar condition and I have episodes where I have had to spend time in hospital going through cognitive behavioural therapy – it is quite debilitating.

"I would have these very vivid dreams afterwards of mountains. Nothing I could put my finger on of where it was. It was also very dark or a deep indigo colour."

He continued: "While in hospital I was encouraged to keep a journal. I found the journal a few years later and I was quite taken with the drawings of the mountains."

The landscapes triggered something in him and he decided to try and locate the mountain ranges in Scotland. "It was not places I was familiar with," Steve said.

He travelled all over Scotland looking for the mountains, including Caithness and Sutherland, spending time studying the areas around Morven, and Cape Wrath.

The project took around five years to complete. "When I set out I was not really looking for places that I knew – I took the drawings with me and went for a walk," he said.

"I sort of immerse myself in it and don't rush. I enjoy the process of it."

He added: "It is quite an unusual position for me, it started with something in a dream form and drawing rather than photography. Viewed in that context, this is an interesting departure because I use photos as the means of expression."

The works are framed in a very specific way by being locked into a box.

The framed Indigo3 exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts has been sold for £1488.
The framed Indigo3 exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts has been sold for £1488.

Steve explained: "The very deep-set frames are part of the process. Being in a secure unit can feel on the one hand being encased or enclosed but at the same time you are protected. I was protecting the dreams."

There are around 16 pieces in the complete series, which was previously shown in Amsterdam last September. The full series and essay can be found on the artist's website: https://www.stevemacleod.co.uk/albums/MbHBpb/indigo-1

Originally from Thurso, Steve served his time as an electrical apprenticeship at Dounreay but always wanted to be a fine art painter, using photos to supplement his drawings.

He went to Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen to follow his painting career. However, he quickly switched to photography.

Like many, Steve has been struggling through the Covid-19 pandemic, work at his London gallery has been put on hold. He said: "Lockdown has been a time to get on with new projects – you have got to look on the bright side."

As well as having his own gallery he is also the senior director of Metro Imaging which produces high-end exhibitions for top artists. In addition to this he is a visiting professor, lecturer and external examiner for his former university.

He is very invested in mental health and is a commissioned artist with Hospital Rooms which helps to transform patients' lives.

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