Tony Humbleyard is a sculptor living on the most Northernly island of the Shetland Isles, Unst. Not only that, he lives at the most northernly place on the isle, in old lighthouse buildings. You can see the white buildings to the left below.
His work reflects his experience of living and working on the land, and his journey’s across it, being at one with the place and the nature.
He lives a remarkable life there. Contrary to most islanders, he does not drive, and therefore walks most of his necessary journeys. These walks are perfect for collecting objects which make up most of his sculptures. He modifies them as little as possible, yet changes them from a found object to a sculpture. He uses a variety of materials. The walks allow observation of changes in the landscape, in the path and inspire his work.
I too am interested in being inspired by the Shetland landscape. I am intrigued by the identity it has brought me, and find the landscape like no other. When away from Shetland, I often miss the vastness of the horizon, the colours and the baron-ness, which I find beautiful.
Tony and I had a residency in September, supported by Northlink Ferries and Creative Scotland. This was part of 2 residencies that Tony has facilitated, the other being Elizabeth Schilling.
We spent the time exploring the land, but also by taking each other’s practice as inspiration. I moved, inspired by the sculptures, and we recorded video which Tony has since used to make installations which will be shared in January. He showed me places on the island that inspired him; these also inspired me, and I created some structured improvisation to the words he had formed as responses.
We played with Tony directing me, and slotting myself and the movements into ideas he had for installations, with projection in the background. We wondered about using sculptures to determine where the performance space starts and stops, and have been discussing how we can incorporate the audience into the performance, whilst ensuring we record their feedback, as we would love to expand the developments, hopefully connecting more to the community. I am intrigued at exploring one’s connection to home, to leaving it and the pull it may have to keep coming back.
I am incredibly excited as we have a residency at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse during Up-Helly-Aa week in Shetland. Tony will be there for the whole week, creating, and I will dip in and out, sharing performances and possibly workshops with passers by. Sumburgh is the most southernly part of Shetland, and I am excited to play with idea of contrasts and opposites. Please see video we made here
Up-Helly-Aa is arguably one of Shetland’s busiest tourist occasions. It is a Viking Festival, the biggest of it’s kind, and celebrates the end of the Winter Darkness (which there’s certainly plenty of in Shetland!) by men carrying torches in squads, around the main town, following a specially built galley, which is then burnt. The squads prepare for the occasion all year round, creating costumes, dances and acts surrounding their chosen theme. They then share these on rotation around the halls of Lerwick, some of which are dedicated community halls, some of which are ferry terminals converted for the occasion. These are where the women go, dressed in their glad rags. They watch the acts and dance with the squads all the way through the night.
I believe it will be an inspiring time to be home again, so much of the work is about connecting to the community as well as being inspired by the land, and I can’t wait to work with Tony again. It is so refreshing to work with somebody from a completely different art form, and to see how our working styles compliment and encourage. I find our work organic, and have learnt a lot from not only his work ethic and his sculptures, but him as a person as well.