Elidh Gardiner’s house in Whittingham is full of beautiful and interesting artefacts from all over the world.
Art by her, and others, covers the walls. She and her husband Derek settled here upon returning to the North East after three years working in Fiji.
What catches my eye the most is an intriguing figure of a Gauginesque girl, crying tears of blood, which turn into bell-shaped, voluptuous flowers.
Elidh tells me: “There are several versions of the story which inspired this painting. In one, a disobedient girl runs away from her angry mother. Climbing into a tree she becomes entangled in the vines. In another version, she is running from an arranged marriage.”
Elidh, whose work is suffused with hints of legends and myths, was reminded of European folk tales of children running away. In Elidh’s painting, trees and plants, patterned with symbols, snake around the girl.
As with all her work, the surface may look pretty, but there are deep and thoughtful layers. For instance, the pose of the girl is taken directly from a UNICEF article on female genital mutilation.
Symbols, secrets, and patterns, are what, to me, link this image with Elidh’s prolific Coquetdale works.
I am drawn to her many images of the Simonside hills, painted from different angles.
Elidh tells me about her fascination with the work of the Japanese artist, Hokusai. She says: “When I found out that he had produced dozens of versions of Mount Fiji, it seemed to validate my own desire, or should I say ‘obsession’, to paint Simonside so often. Derek would say, ‘not yet another picture of Simonside’. I can now reply, well, it worked well for Hokusai.”
At first glance these images of Simonside appear to be straightforward landscapes. However, a deeper look reveals a great deal more.
Unusually, the frames for almost all of them are in portrait format. This device cleverly creates a different kind of depth. The symbolism is far from literal, but you can feel the sense of there being more there than what you can see at a glance.
Her work contains allusions to Celtic history, of journeys and myths. A motif in many of the Simonside images is the hawthorn tree. Many images portray trees in sets of three.
I asked Elidh about the artists who had influenced her the most: “I studied graphic art and love graphic artists, such as the English painter Eric Ravilious. Another favourite is the contemporary printmaker, Rebecca Vincent.”
Elidh tells me that she has always also loved the Pre-Raphaelite painters for the storytelling qualities of their work.
After completing her studies at Newcastle Polytechnic, Elidh had a variety of jobs, including being a life model, and working at the Bowes Railway, before eventually training to be a teacher of Art and Design.
It is clear that she gained a great deal of satisfaction from helping disadvantaged pupils to gain really good grades. She enjoyed introducing pupils to works by great artists.
She recalls: “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is a wonderful painting studied by many generations of school children and me over my teaching years, all versions we could find of them. The story behind it is dramatic and enthralling and the style accessible.
“Students noticing things like his coloured lines, not just his brush strokes, always seemed like a breakthrough”.
Pressing her further on this, she explains: “I might have overdone it.”
“Go on”, I encourage her.
“Well”, she laughs, “I accompanied a party of sixth-formers to the National Gallery to see a real Van Gogh Sunflower painting – and some of the students burst into tears – as if it was The Beatles or Take That.”
A practical person, Elidh makes her own mounts and frames.
Besides being a full-time artist, she also plays the flute and performs with Alnwick Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the Alnwick Playhouse Concert Band.
Elidh manages the website for the Coquetdale Art Gallery, which is a charity based in Rothbury.
If you would like to develop your own artistic skills, the gallery has Saturday classes, beginning in March.
See the website for details at www.coquetdalearts.co.uk