Sylvia Wishart RSA (1936-2008)
Sylvia Wishart RSA was, by choice, a quiet and very private artist, and a study of her life’s work makes it clear why.
From an early age there is a deep and profound identification with landscape and the life within it.
In the work of her mature years, painted from the seclusion of her home in Heatherybraes, Scapa Flow, is a living, breathing entity. Clouds billow over the Kame, the ebb tide surges, a flock of gulls rise as a single force above Warbeth; while, in the foreground, a harrier, a gyrfalcon and a hare are set against a field of late barley.
Neil Firth, Curator of the Pier Arts Centre, likens her visionary joy to that of the English Romantic painter Samuel Palmer.
As a child Sylvia’s talent was spotted, and encouraged, by teacher and painter Ian MacInnes, who later also encouraged her to go to Gray’s Art School as a mature student.
After graduating, she taught in Aberdeenshire, Lewis and Orkney, before returning to Gray’s as a lecturer in drawing and painting in 1969.
While working in Aberdeen, Sylvia set up home in Tarty on the river Ythan, and it was in that landscape that she began to find her own distinctive voice as an artist.
As a lecturer, Sylvia was valued and respected by both students and colleagues alike.
Joyce Cairns said of her: “Sylvia opened my eyes to the true meaning of drawing… [Her students] loved and respected her because of the way she helped them towards this understanding, and for her humour and kindness in the face of quite dismal paintings."
Sylvia Wishart played a vital part in the development of the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness.
As a friend of Margaret Gardiner, the centre’s founder, Sylvia’s influence was clearly significant in Margaret’s decision to gift the collection to Orkney, and it was Sylvia’s property, the one-time Hudson’s Bay Company warehouse, which became the hub for the new development.
Once the Pier Arts Centre was established, Sylvia served as a trustee for many years.
On leaving Stromness town centre for her hilltop house at Ootertoon, Sylvia began to devote herself increasingly to the landscape from her window; the view over the fields of Ootertoon and Scapa Flow to the Kame of Hoy.
Using a challenging mix of media, which included oils, pastels, graphite and gouache, she painted increasingly on huge sheets of paper, which she would tack directly to the wall.
Her work was rarely exhibited outside of Orkney and Aberdeen, and exhibitions quickly sold out.
In 2005 she was awarded full membership of the Royal Scottish Academy.
Her painting Hoy Sound is in the RSA Diploma Collection in Edinburgh. Her works are also in the collections of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Contemporary Arts Society, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, The Pier Arts Centre and Orkney Museums and Heritage.
They also hang in many Orkney homes.
© John Cummings