Dark brown swathes of bog, peat and mountain are strewn with grey boulders. It’s empty. The last human outcrop was a small village called Ardgay, in which a local store ekes out a living and not much else. A glimpse of the North Atlantic Ocean reminds us that this is the edge. From Cornwall up to London, on to Birmingham, through Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Perth, Inverness—here is where the British Isles ends. Southern shorelines, suburban conurbations and urban sprawls have all whittled away to this—wilderness cut by a couple of roads, occasional crofts, but mostly just immense, unyielding rock, sea and sky. A hawk hangs on the wind, poised to swoop.
Coming round from under the hull of Ben Hope and along the loch in dark drizzle, sudden shapes appear on the horizon. Strange eyes, bending on splints in the wind, nod at us, a cluster of small bodies huddle on the edge of a hill. We’ve arrived. This is the home of Lotte Glob, a sculptor from Denmark, who has made these final lands of Scotland near Durness her home for the last 35 years. Pushing back the gate studded with skulls, a path of daffodils leads down past a workshop to Lotte’s ark. Her new house, made from wood and glass, has won praise and awards, just missing out on the coveted RIAS prize last year, and it is incredible. Amid the thuggery of the elements it is warm and light and calm—a huge floor-to-ceiling arched window offers an unbroken prospect of Loch Eribol and Ben Hope.
But we’re not here to admire the house. We’re here to find out about the woman who has made sculptures from the rocks and skulls around her, who goes out into the mountains on her own for weeks and who has left floating stones, thrown on the wheel, dotted about in 111 Highland lochans from here to the Kyle of Lochalsh.
‘Usually the last week in April and the first two weeks in May I’m out all the time,’ Lotte says. ‘I can walk into the hills and spend five or six days and then I have to come out to get more food.
‘It is absolutely really, really wonderful—it’s like a drug. It takes a few days to get rid of all the clutter in your head and in your mind and then you just become part of it. Not that it is always very romantic if the weather’s horrible—you can also be very miserable, but you get both—the real lows and the highs.’
Lotte Glob arrived in Scotland in 1968. ‘With two kids, a dog, one ton of clay, a small electric kiln and £5 in my pocket.’ She and her family lived in a disused, vandalised RAF camp—‘a shell and the beginnings of a craft village in Durness’. From this moment her relationship with the land grew on an intimate level, driven by wonder and a deep sense of connection. It is impossible to separate the land and Lotte Glob. Her work is born from her wanderings, the materials come directly from the land and in a development which has become known as The Ultimate Rock Garden, her sculptures return back to the crags, valleys and stones.
‘The landscape is my studio—I’ve spent so much time out there,’ she says. ‘You just get absorbed in it. The more you are in the landscape the more you see and I find a lot of things echoing each other—like the shape of a rock and a shape in the sky, or a shape of a snow pattern in the roadside, so many things like that.’ Lotte’s hands and eyes have the combination of tough solidity and lightness. It is the same in her sculpture—rock and clay are hawed, sculpted and heated to extreme temperatures so that a spirit lives in the transformed elements.
‘I remember when I was about 18 and saw a postcard of a Magritte,’ she says. ‘It was a heavy rock and a little cloud on top and I just loved that. It’s always been following me—it’s very light and delicate and very heavy.’
We go out into the drizzle to look at the alien eyes that were winking at us from the road. ‘Well, I have this idea of flying stones,’ she says. ‘They’ve got mirrors on and so when the sun catches them they send great big beams back out into the universe and in the night-time if the moon is out they catch the moonlight so it’s like a cluster of stars floating up in the air.’ The little crowd of heads on legs are the ‘Chorus of Eribol’, singing their praises to the overcast heavens. Humour is another aspect of Lotte’s work. One of the airborne stones she describes as a ‘flying nipple’.
We walk back over the soggy ground to look at her three kilns—two gas-powered ones sit inside a corrugated iron shed with shelves piled high with ‘a lot of work I haven’t shown—I just make—I get obsessed’. On one side I see a slab with a rock that looks like a big, oozing, melted mozzarella. The wood-fired kiln is tucked under a wooden shelter and Lotte tells me it takes 24 hours of constant stoking—two days to cool. She describes herself as an alchemist as well as an artist. The materials that she gathers from the hills are brought back here to be heated and transformed into something new.
‘I do a lot of experimenting in my work and have always done which sometimes is very risky,’ Lotte says. ‘I use the local materials and you don’t always know what it’s going to do. I fire them to a temperature of 1,300 centigrade so the rock actually starts melting. First I used to grind the rocks up to powder and it’s really very boring. I asked an expert what would happen if I put a bit of rock in. And he said, “Oh you can’t do that”. People shouldn’t say to me “You can’t do that” because then I want to find out. So I put a little bit in and then I put another bit in until I had big boulders. But you get better and you get to know the rocks and which ones melt at different temperatures. It’s really like creating a mini volcano in the kiln. I think I just tend to like to take things to an extreme. My motto is if you don’t take things to an extreme there’s no point in going.’
After cooking up the elements around her and fusing them with clay, using her own glazes and sculpting them into new objects, Lotte takes some of them from their temporary studio/workshop and returns them to her permanent studio—back to the hills. This is the evolving process known as The Ultimate Rock Garden . There are now 84 works dotted about in the surrounding landscape, though she won’t tell exactly where. It started after returning depressed from an unsuccessful trip to London where Lotte had failed to impress the art dealers and set off on a big walk. ‘I thought OK, I’m going to go to Cape Wrath and just as I was going out of the door I saw some of my sculptures and I thought “Damn it, I’m taking them back to where they belong”,’ she says. ‘Then halfway down the coastline I had a picnic and I took the sculpture out and put it down and thought—Wow—it looks beautiful there. As I was walking away it was just such a nice feeling to put it there and I felt very spiritual about the whole thing. It’s become such an important thing in my life. It’s very private. But everything’s documented—in that way I’m quite meticulous—I write the time and the weather and the day—so it’s become a kind of diary.’ The rain drums on the corrugated roof and a smell of wood smoke and earth tinges the damp air.
Leaving Lotte is hard. You really feel like you are in the presence of someone who has committed body and soul to her wild environs—like a true love that gives and takes and weathers the storms (of which there are many). The essentials from her original arrival—clay, kiln and faith in the rock—are still the staples of Lotte Glob’s existence. The workshop and kilns are the literal melting pot for her work, but the source and the return lie all around. Lotte says that she feels an undimmed sense of magic when out walking.
The next morning driving around past Cape Wrath, banks of white cloud sit on snowy peaks, a rainbow arches over soft rain-misted sky, slate grey rocks glisten under hazy beams of northern sun—and it’s not hard to see why.
Ruth Hedges is deputy editor of MAP
Luke Watson is an Edinburgh-based photographer, who teaches at Edinburgh College of Art