A few weeks ago I took a photo of an old ship which was being readied for a new paint job down in the harbour at Leith, half covered already with a fresh coat of primer, the floating scaffolding for painters moored next to the hull:
I looked up the ship, MV Finagal, and found it was an old lighthouse tender for the northern lighthouses, long retired. And it wasn’t just getting a new paint job as such, it was being primed for Edinburgh based artist Ciara Phillips to work on, with a modern interpretation of the WWI dazzle camouflage as part of ongoing events around the UK for the 14-18 Now campaign marking a century since the Great War.
Since you can’t camouflage a ship on the high seas the way you can a tank or an infantry position on the land, the idea, developed by Norman Wilkinson, was to use vivid colours and abstract patterns (informed by then modern art) to break up the outline of vessels. Imagine looking at this through the periscope of a U-Boat as it heaved up and down on the open seas, struggling to make out what type of ship it actually was, its size, direction, bearing, distance… I’ve only ever seen dazzle camouflage in old photographs, quite remarkable to see it on an actual vessel with my own eyes. Part war memorial, part art installation, this is also a part of the Edinburgh Art Festival and will be moored in Leith for several weeks.
I enjoyed a visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this afternoon, the first time I have been in for years as it was closed until recently for a huge refurbishment. Many spots now much more open and lighter, including the nice room they have an old friend of mine, in an old favourite from before the refurbishment, Sandy Moffat’s Poet’s Pub. Always loved this piece depicting some of the most important and influential writers of mid 20th century Scottish culture (including, as you can see on the far right, Captain Picard!). In the new display room it is in an airy, light filled space with a comfortable big padded seat right in front of it so you can sit there and regard it, with a touchscreen interface angled into the armrest so you can tap it for more information while sitting comfortably in front of the painting, touching the individual writers lets you hear them reading some of their own work in their own voice. Lovely.
The work itself is a composite as they were never all in the same pub at the same time and the location itself is a combination of elements from three different Edinburgh pubs, the Abbotsford, The Cafe Royale and Milnes. All still exist, although sadly Milnes these days is an awful chain-operated place with lousy service that I long since gave up on (complaints to company who runs it made it clear they never gave a damn about standards or customers so sod them), although the Royale and Abbotsford are still firm favourites of mine. In fact I was in the Abbotsford just a few nights ago and bumped into a number of contemporary Scottish writers I know, including two of our bestsellers, Ian and Iain: