Pieces of Sable Island, 5′ x 5′, oil on birch panel, is both a painting by Briana Corr Scott and the title of her exhibit at Argyle Fine Art to July 4.
Sable Island has such a hold on artist Briana Corr Scott that her haunting, layered still lifes and landscapes are about a real place and an enchanted, dreamed-of place.
“My work is about the beauty of decay and the fleeting quality of life,” says Corr Scott, at Argyle Fine Art where Pieces of Sable Island is on view to July 4. “Sable is this symbol of the impermanence and the beauty of nature. ”
Her passion for the island began with regular trips to sketch shells, flowers and natural objects from life at the Museum of Natural History, which in 2016 installed a permanent Sable Island exhibit that captivated her. “I was definitely called there. I needed to go.”
Her first trip with Picture Perfect Tours, set for July, 2017, was cancelled when the beach runway was washed out by heavy rain.
Corr Scott was so disappointed she wrote her feelings down — “everything I dreamed to see,” she says. “I put all that longing into it and everything I imagined it would be.” That poem, with her artwork, will be a book, to be published by Nimbus next spring.
Finally in late October, 2017, she made the one-hour flight from Halifax to spend one day on the narrow, sandy island.
“It was a gorgeous fall day, sunny and bright, really windy but warm. There were dark clouds that would roll in. I only got to see a small part; it’s 42 kilometres. I saw as much as I could walk. It was everything I had dreamed to see.”
She sketched obsessively, leaving her group to spend part of the afternoon with seals on the beach, returning for a session at the main station where the old, clear glass bottles found by rangers on the beach were lined up on window ledges. They become a subject for a still life with a view out to distant horses.
“Sable Island, because it’s protected you can go and experience the beauty. We passed a lot of seal carcasses and there was a horse that had died in childbirth lying on the beach. No one lives there permanently and it is this wild, isolated island. For me it was the last place still really wild and pure.”
She is fascinated by the tiny island’s unique eco-system. “It has five different species of bees, one is endemic to the island. It has the largest, grey seal colony in the world. There are all sorts of beetles and moths and it’s amazing that there are flowers on the island. It’s so windy and salty.”
The history of shipwrecks adds to the mystery. “It makes Sable Island evasive; it’s so hard to get to, it’s like it’s protecting itself.”
Moonsnail & Aster, 30″ x 30″, oil on birch by Briana Corr Scott.
As soon as she got home she sketched out all her memories, tearing out pages and taping them together. On view at the gallery, this banner is like a diary including all the visual motifs to come in her paintings — even the mushrooms growing out of horse dung.
Corr Scott was struck by a strange yellow light at the horizon and the colour of the sea — “a shocking emerald colour.” She uses these colours literally in her landscapes and as stains of memory in still lifes.
The landscapes “express what I actually saw there,” she says. “I’m a still life painter but it’s hard to go to a place like Sable and not acknowledge it in landscape.
“What I saw is the landscape. The dream part of Sable and what I hoped to see, and my memory of it now, I project in my still life.”
A ghostly painting of irises as shadowy, fleeting figures points out a future direction, she says. “I didn’t see flowers but it was part of the dream journey.”
Dartmouth artist Briana Corr Scott grew up in New Hampshire and studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.
Corr Scott’s exhibit includes prints, postcards and scarves sewn by her mother from fabric designed by the artist, as well a Sable Island candle inspired by scents the artist experience like cranberry, bayberry, lavender and honey by Kara MacIntyre Quinn of The Wax Brewery. The exhibit may be seen online at http://brianacorrscott.com.
Also at the 1559 Barrington St. gallery are Michelle St. Onge’s amazing, exquisitely crafted and delicate watercolours of birds’ nests in Nesting Instinct. The images are so expertly rendered they don’t look like watercolours at all. Both shows are up until July 4.