Will Maclean, Voyage of the Anchorites, 1996

Will Maclean, MBE (b. 1941) lives and works in Tayport, Fife

Will Maclean's art is concerned with the history and traditions of Scotland, and with reflecting on aspects of contemporary life. He grew up in Inverness among fishermen and boats and often uses these experiences in his art to explore wider concerns.

This work features the motif of a boat seen from above. As the title of the work indicates, it refers to the history of early Celtic saints (‘anchorites’) who went on a long sea voyage as a spiritual quest, filling their boats with basic provisions for their rituals. The figures and the boat itself also recall bird and fish motifs. The figures are both male and female as well as suggesting a bird (gannet) and fish (or beard). In the boats are supplies such as quern-stones for grinding oats, sticks to act as tent poles, bags of corn and in the right hand boat is a plank of wood with 10 stones. This recalls an object in North Rhona where the stones were polished daily and were said to have magical properties.

Mixed media painted wood consuction

 This work consists of beautifully carved pieces of wood that play on the context of archaeology. The artist decided to use dark colours and a wax finish for this work after viewing an exhibition of African sculpture at the Royal Academy in the mid-90s. This reference to another culture is significant because it suggests that the themes of exile explored here might have resonance with the history of other cultures also.  

The artist started making assemblages in 1974, as a means of using objects and exploring resulting assocations instead of starting with a blank canvas, as the Surrealists had done. Themes of exile and loss are explored in many of this artist's works, in particular the loss of Gaelic culture and language. 


Artist Biography

Born in Inverness in 1941, the artist was a midshipman (1957 – 59) before attending Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen (1961 – 65) and the British School in Rome (1966). In 1968, he spent a year as a ring-net fisherman and worked on an art project, the Ring Net project,that explored this traditional way of fishing.

Will Maclean was appointed as a lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee in 1981, and later held the post of Professor of Art (1994) there, becoming Senior Research Fellow and Emeritus Professor in 2004.

He has exhibited widely since 1967. A major solo show, Driftworks, was held at Dundee Contemporary Arts in 2001.

He was elected to the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) in 1991 and he won a Scottish Arts Council Creative Scotland Award in 1999. He was recorded for the British Library and Tate Artists Lives sound archive in 2005.

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