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The Navigatio

6th March - 23rd April 2017

 -  Exhibitions

The Navigatio
The Navigatio

The Navigatio

Explore the mysteries of the North Atlantic at an exhibition at the Scottish Fisheries Museum from 6th March.
The series of drawings, by Fife artist Alan Watson, depicts scenes from ‘Brendan the Navigator’s’ epic sea voyage in a curragh around the North Atlantic in the early medieval period.

The story originated in 8th century Ireland and depicts the exploits of St Brendan and his crew of 14 fellow monks who sailed the Western Ocean for seven years. Having built themselves a leather boat, they travel the seas in the hope of finding the Promised Land of the Saints. Whilst on their epic voyage they encounter many miraculous animals and lonely hermits who give the story a surreal quality.

6th March - 23rd April 2017

Entry included in museum admission

Alan describes the inspiration for the work:
Although the story of St Brendan’s transatlantic voyage was written in the 8th century it’s curiously abstracted prose style has direct parallels with 20th century travel writing, especially mountaineering literature, which describes visionary experiences in a similar manner. I was struck by the complete lack of descriptive passages alluding to a sense of travelling the unknown ocean in an open leather boat. The text concerns itself with the crew’s awe at mysterious obstacles that impede their voyage and St Brendan’s patient approach to overcoming then. My suite of drawings takes the Brendan story as its starting point, namely a sea journey as an act of faith.

I first came across this story reading Tim Severin’s The Brendan Voyage in 1978. I came across John O’Meara’s translation in 1992 and it inspired me to create this series of large scale drawings. As an artist re-discovering this story, it has not taken much detective work to see that what is described is a pre-Columbus transatlantic voyage to the Americas. Descriptions of Rockall, Fair Isle, volcanic eruptions on Iceland, the Greenland Iceflows and the fogbanks of Newfoundland are but a few of the episodes in the story. Like Medieval artists who depicted religious themes before me, my sailors are in contemporary dress. I feel that this story, with its theme of willingness to confront the unseen and ultimate, is an enduring one.

The original suite of ‘The Navigatio’ drawings opened at Kirkcaldy Art Gallery and Museum in 2001 before continuing to Ann Lantair, Stornoway and Gallery Q2, Dundee. This exhibition builds on the original series with new work and objects from the museum’s collections. It is also the inspiration for this year’s Schools Art Competition and a programme of educational events for adults and children. This includes a talk on saints’ stories by Dr James Palmer from the University of St Andrews, a gallery talk by Alan Watson, and a lino printing workshop. Please see our events listings for details.

For more information on the artist, please visit Alan Watson’s website.


The Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust Ltd
St Ayles, Harbourhead, Anstruther, Fife KY10 3AB
Tel (within UK): 01333 310628
Tel (from outside UK): +44 1333 310628
Charity Number: SC 006185 VAT Reg Number: 270 2790 64
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