(acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 50cm)
The intention in this painting was to portray the settlement pattern of the crofting township of Bragar on the Hebridean island of Lewis. This subject was chosen because it had been the subject of research by Robert Dodgshon that revealed three distinct phases of settlement evolution. First, the pre-clearance pattern of small scattered nucleated settlements or bailes, or clachans. Secondly, the first phase of settlement reorganisation into crofts. This partially re-arranged the existing settlements and with the addition of new dwellings formed linear crofting townships roughly at right angles to the shore. Finally, with population growth, the second phase of planned expansion and reorganisation of crofts took place establishing the current settlement along a road parallel to the shore.
In seeking to convey this temporal change in settlement pattern it was decided to play down the usual signature of highland crofting townships, namely the elongated pattern of field boundaries, in order to highlight the position of the dwellings and the immediate plots on which they sit. This simplification and symbolisation of the real landscape has been accomplished by borrowing the approach to colour field painting that characterised American abstract expressionism. So although the chequerboard of the successive field patterns can be discerned by opposing brushstrokes in the colour field it is the symbolic representation of the dwellings themselves that dominates the work and emphasises the spatial pattern of settlement, and allows the recognition of the three phases recognised by Dodgshon.
The choice of colour was a deliberate attempt to distance and abstract the image from reality without losing the clarity of the pattern depicted.