‘Perhaps the most remote locations now are the inner places within each individual, the exclusive den where the self crouches, beneath the complex strata of life. This is, of course, the very place divinity looks to dwell, tries to reach.’ Allan MacDonald
True Northern Romanticism is landscape freed of scenery, grasping what so many of us seek in the presence of Nature. It is transparent imagination and a deep human longing to bridge worlds; the sensation of dissolving into light, colour and tone found in Allan MacDonald’s Coming and Going (oil on canvas). His vital brush marks convey the sacredness and interconnectivity of the natural world. In MacDonald’s work we feel a human eye and mind perceiving the landscape with veneration of forces greater than ourselves. In Pillar of Cloud, the overwhelming presence of warmth and light extends into the frozen landscape and beyond the picture plane. Like crossing a threshold and stepping out into the unknown, MacDonald’s interior landscapes present us with the imminent possibility of heightened awareness and understanding.
Pursuit of these moments are what painting and seeing is about, as a source of illumination and renewal. Light isn’t an optical or aesthetic element in MacDonald’s work but an affirmation, with no separation between the physical and metaphysical. In Cloud Poise, the arc of sunlight extends into pure, aspirational blue that doesn’t deny the presence of darkness, or subsume us in the dominant cloud of unrest. MacDonald’s inimitable skill and sensitivity are realised where colour and form, light and shadow, intersect, lifting a veil in a blaze of colour and impasto where fire, earth, air and water meet. The creative energy that sustains all life is further distilled in Sunlight, ploughed field, where a single line of fertile gold is held between strata of earth, cloud and a hymn of irrepressible blue.
As Robert Rosenblum suggests in Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko (1977) the impulse towards abstraction has deep spiritual roots in Northern Europe and North America, that even today have yet to be fully explored and celebrated. In recent years we’ve seen growing acknowledgement of this tradition, with major exhibitions of works by Harald Sohlberg, Emil Nolde, Edvard Munch, Emily Carr, Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven in the UK. As we continue to examine and re-evaluate our cultural compass, what emerges is an unbroken line of seeing that radiates from indigenous ways of thinking about the Northern landscape and our place within it. In MacDonald’s art, understanding place, natural elements and cycles are part of that burgeoning sense of meaning we encounter when we go out to meet Nature, all senses firing.
From ancient stone monuments like The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, to the spirited en plein air paint handling of William McTaggart or Joan Eardley’s visceral responses to the North Sea, human beings are relative to the sublime Scottish landscape. There is a universal sense of awe and mystery that attends the transient sun, moon and tides, which can profoundly comfort or confront us.
For MacDonald, the discipline of painting is devotional. There’s an attitude of reverence in the presence of Nature, akin to Friedrich’s Nocturnes or Sohlberg’s symbolic illuminations, found in the luminous poise of MacDonald’s birches. MacDonald’s work is a radical burst of light in the contemporary art scene. Reward, North West delivers something we do not expect from the landscape genre. It doesn’t celebrate conquering the peak, but the feeling and presence of light within it.
Allan MacDonald continues to forge his own path within a distinctive Northern tradition. We can see humanity beholding Nature, in the mirror shards of his doppelganger self-portraits, tree-like patterns of life and colour that stream through the window in Consider the Daffodils, or the oceanic surge of Mangersta Maelstrom. Every painting is a revelation, invested with indomitable life and eternal light.
Georgina Coburn August 2019