Zhang Enli‘s site-specific painting ‘Ancient quartz’ (2018) on the drawing room ceiling © Zhang Enli

Art at The Fife Arms

10 August 2019

Located in the historic Scottish village of Braemar amidst the Cairngorms National Park, The Fife Arms was recently named The Sunday Times Hotel of the Year 2019. Reopened by Iwan and Manuela Wirth, the newly restored landmark brings together Scottish heritage, craftsmanship and culture. The hotel is also home to an outstanding collection of masterworks and antiques alongside specially commissioned artworks by contemporary artists including Bharti Kher, Guillermo Kuitca and Zhang Enli that respond to this unique site.

Spreading across the ceiling of the drawing room, Zhang Enli’s ‘Ancient Quartz’ (2018) takes its inspiration from cross-sections of Scottish agates, whose deceptively simple exteriors conceal a dazzling array of color and texture. The Cairngorm crystal features beautiful lines traversing their surfaces, much like Zhang’s artwork. These crystals are both made by the unique landscape here in the Highlands and are also evocative of the peaks and troughs of the landscape which formed them. We might also image them to be the contour lines of a topographic map describing the surrounding ups and downs of the Highland landscape. Zhang has created this work in his signature style of lines, curves, drips and smears applied in thin, diluted layers of paint—a direct influence of the loose washes of traditional Chinese brush painting. ‘Ancient Quartz’ belongs to Zhang’s series of ‘Space Paintings’. These ambitious pieces are site-specific installations which Zhang Enli paints directly onto the walls or ceiling of a room to create immersive, nostalgic environments.

The Fife Arms, Braemar, Scotland. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke. Courtesy The Fife Arms

Argentinan artist Guillermo Kuitca’s distinctive ‘cubistoid’ style is influenced by architecture, music and theatre. His mural, ‘Untitled’ (2018), painted for The Clunie Dining Room emerges from a cubist tradition but subverts its art-historical influences by virtue of scale, method, and meaning. Painting the mural was a physical process inspired by choreographer Pina Bausch’s mantra, ‘in dance, walking is enough.’ Pacing the length of the room, Kuitca would tilt his abstractions to the rhythm of his footsteps. It was not only figurative movement that inspired Kuitca, but also the fast flowing waters of the Clunie, directly outside the dining room. We can feel the river‘s swelling and ebbing waters in his painting, the forms of the rocks that sit beneath its surface and the colors of not only the Clunie, but of the majestic Highland landscape. Combined with Kuitca’s interest in theatre and stage design, it is easy to imagine this mural as the backdrop of a stage, with the diners becoming the actors.

Detail of ‘The Clunie River Mural’ (2018) by Guillermo Kuitca © Guillermo Kuitca

Detail of Bharti Kher’s ‘Cipher’ (2018) © Bharti Kher

Bharti Kher’s triptych of installations titled ‘Cipher’ (2018), commissioned specifically for The Fife Arms, utilize bindis as their medium. The bindi is an iconic personal affect of Indian women and a loaded symbol. Kher explains: ‘Many people believe it’s a traditional symbol of marriage while others, in the West particularly, see it as a fashion accessory... But actually the bindi is meant to represent a third eye—one that forges a link between the real and the spiritual-conceptual worlds.’ These works speak of the part and the whole, the bindi is both the micro and macrocosm, spatial and bodily. The ‘Cipher’ works have the appearance of a vortex or time tunnel that you might climb into, equally you might imagine a womb or safe space. The spiral geometry, bearing in mind Kher’s interest in Eastern mythologies, is reminiscent of the quasi sacred geometry found in Buddhist motifs. Kher chose a rose-lilac, an Indian yellow and a moss lake green—colors that reference not only the green algae covering a water body in a South Indian temple that once bathed the goddess Kali, but a green fern of the Scottish moors. Equally they might evoke autumnal Scotland or the balmy seasons of the East. – Visit The Fife Arms to learn more about special commissions and other highlights from The Fife Arms collection.