Book review: Norman Ackroyd: A Shetland Notebook

Norman Ackroyd: A Shetland Notebook (Royal Academy of Arts, £16.95 (Buy this book from the Country Life Bookshop at the special price of *£15.26)

This beautiful production in slim landscape format offers some 40 exquisite landmark views by the artist/printmaker Norman Ackroyd. It includes locations he has famously treated before in ink Muckle Flugga lighthouse, for example, and the famous ‘Drongs’. Strictly, the etchings for which he is justly celebrated are not monochrome, but their relatively stark black-and-white quality lends itself to dramatic expression, however ethereal its effects and formal its primary concerns.

Enter colour! And how different the world may be seen to appear. This is nowhere more true than through the filter of Mr Ackroyd’s remarkable palette of lyrical greens, blues, yellows, heathery mauves, all caught in miraculous skylines and rapid but faultless and profoundly expressive lines gesturing at depth and volume. Strength and delicacy were never better matched than here.

Mr Ackroyd has been described as ‘a visual poet in the romantic tradition who has never surrendered to sentimentality or idealization’. That the artist we probably know best for his etchings is also a consummate watercolourist is well borne out in this new book.

He has always cherished the poets, but language cannot compete with or illuminate the silent art of painting other than by oblique juxtaposition, such as you’ll find in his and the poet Douglas Dunn’s A Line in the Water (2009). The superb gazetteer at the back of A Shetland Notebook shows how well Mr Ackroyd knows this. His ‘captions’ or annotations to the paintings here are perfectly judged and, together with the thumbnails, provide a minimalist and finely evocative poetry of their own.

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This article was first published in Country Life on August 6 2014