The Birth of the Unicorn at The Scottish Storytelling Centre

The art of storytelling is celebrated in this immersive exhibition, with painting from John Slavin, poetry inspired by Duncan Williamson, and recreations of his stories led by Linda Williamson, David Campbell, and Helen East. As you walk into the exhibition space, you are met with an overload of the senses. A group sits in a circle, playing folkloric music with traditional Scottish instruments in front of a wall that is packed with Slavin’s work, characterised by its bright acrylics on canvas. Slavin is traditionally a landscape painter, and these are in fact his first paintings that include figures in them. The most interesting painting, ‘The flying horse of earthdom,’ reflects his mastery of nature, with lush green mountains dominating the portrait canvas, whilst the rendering reflects an impressionist-like movement of nature.

Only one wall houses his work, and this curatorial choice makes the exhibition seem immediately cramped and cluttered. When the storytelling begins, it becomes clear the hanging of the paintings is not chronologically placed along the timeline of the stories. There seems to be no concept of time or space, reflecting the intangibility of oral storytelling. Additionally, suspended between the paintings, there are handmade crosses, filling yet more space, to commemorate St Brigid’s day which falls on the opening night, 1 February, marking the beginning of spring. It seems slightly odd to place the works on one wall alone, especially as the paintings themselves are incredibly detailed and intricate.

However, when the storytelling begins it becomes clear that the hanging of the works is more functional than aesthetic, as the storytellers perform in front of them. Indeed, these paintings do not stand alone as works of art; the stories make them come alive. The garish, bright acrylics, combined with the twisted landscapes free from perspective and creatures that look as if they were superimposed onto the fairytale land, all lend a sense of being taken from a children’s storybook. but then the colours begin to pulsate, the canvas begins to move as the background moves into the foreground as the audience learns of the fantastical creatures, like the two raven boys, begin to come alive, making sense of the perspective and colour choice. The storytelling really elevates the paintings and exceeds expectations. The experience was far from a conventional gallery opening.

This would be a great place for a family day out, engaging children in Scottish history and a piece of the past which could get lost as we depend less on oral traditions and more on technological connections.

This is not your average exhibition; throw inhibitions aside and walk in with an open mind.

Prices start from £650, going up to £950 for larger canvases.

Image: Eddie Martin; painting by John Slavin

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