by Julia Welstead
The day I’m due to meet Cally Yeatman she is still testing positive for Covid-19. I ring her to rearrange, and an hour later we are still on the phone, having naturally talked our way through most of what I might have asked in an interview. I still hope to meet this multi-talented artist, but in the meantime our phone-chat has lifted my spirits and filled a few notebook pages.
Cally trained as an architect, “in the days when we still drew by hand, standing at a drawing board, with the physicality, coordination and the expansive scale that that entails”. Now architects work at a computer, sitting down, hunched and working within the bounds of a screen, which Cally feels stifles freedom of thought as well as limiting physical movement. Her training, which included drawing and painting, gave her a taste for big scenes on large canvasses.
A need for more physicality led her to a pottery course in Essex, and on to a decade of working with clay in a community studio. As a ‘midlife hurrah’ Cally came to North Uist for a Fine Art course. At the time there was no wheel or kiln at the college, so she moved on to driftwood sculpture and drawing.
Working on the theme of connection to other living creatures, Cally chose to focus on limpets and how they find their ideal ‘fit’ within a rock surface and repeatedly return to it. In similar vein, she painted a massive canvas depicting ‘The living wall – Guillemot cliffs’ – which can be seen in the Downpour Gin tasting rooms on Benbecula, and is hugely worth a visit.
Birds – rocks – standing stones – Cally’s artistic focus on sense of place and finding somewhere we fit continues. On finding our niche, she ponders, is there any need to go elsewhere, when we have a lifetime of discovering, comprehending and learning to be found in the history, culture, habitats and biodiversity all around us. I’m reminded of poet and novelist George MacKay Brown, who rarely felt the need to leave his hometown of Stromness, Orkney, yet wrote with such global perspective.
Our chat meanders back and forth, up and down the single-track roads and hill tracks of life. At some point in our wanderings and wonderings, she points out to me that traditional routes across the islands were east to west, rather than the modern preponderance of north-south roads. This harks back to the hey-day of the sea roads: travelling by boat, good harbour was to be found on the east coast, whereas fertile land was to be found on the west. Hence, many old east-west walking routes can still be traced.
By her own description, ‘happiest under the sky’, Cally is a kayaker, a beach moocher and a gardener who would always prefer to be outdoors, sketchpad in hand, contemplating nature. Her wonderfully evocative paintings and drawings reflect an intimate knowledge of wildlife, coast and cliff.