Art of the matter
What do you do when The Scotch Malt Whisky Society gives you free rein to come up with a new piece of art for The Vaults, inspired by our wonderful – and sometimes weird – bottle names? For Edinburgh artist Shona Hardie, it was the opportunity to see where the Tasting Panel’s imagination would lead her, as Mhairi Mitchell found out
If you happen to walk through Tollcross, the bustling hub in the heart of Edinburgh, you might miss it. Tucked behind a set of electric blue barn doors lies a hidden gem of creativity.
Shona Hardie, the artist-in-residence, welcomes me inside with a quiet apology for the mess. But for those who appreciate art in its raw and unfiltered state, this is a feast for the eyes. Every inch of the studio is adorned with carefully curated treasures, sketches and scrapbooks that all have their own stories to tell.
It is easy to see how the studio’s shabby-chic charm could inspire anyone who sets foot inside. It’s a world where creativity is free to roam, and Shona is its queen.
Her artist days started while working in the hospitality sector and meeting like-minded individuals within the Scottish festival scene. In particular, the Kelburn Garden Party proved to be an important turning point. Artistic freedom was celebrated, and Shona and her fellow artist friends worked more collaboratively, inspiring each other along the way.
Shona has since become a talented self-taught artist making a name for herself with her intricate and diverse works of art. From the art of pyrography – a form of wood burning – to large scale murals, she has proven herself to be an artist with a passion for portraiture and community engagement.
However, the road to success has not always been smooth for Shona, especially when it comes to street art. In Edinburgh, the culture of street art is not as widely accepted compared to cities such as Glasgow or Manchester. But Shona has witnessed a positive change in attitude towards street art over the years, thanks to the strong sense of community that it brings.
Shona has been commissioned by various businesses and organisations, such as Innis & Gunn, Teuchters Landing, Ardbeg distillery, and Dewars Aberfeldy Whisky. One of her most notable works is the six-panelled murals commissioned by Innis & Gunn Lager Beer for the people of Leith. The mural, featuring 47 different images, showcases the culture, characters, icons and landmarks of Leith, including references that only a few would understand.
THE SOCIETY DISTILLED
Shona’s artwork always tells a story and with the artwork commissioned for The Vaults, she wanted to incorporate whimsical elements that capture the essence of the Society. In her piece, titled Endless Discoveries, Infinite Adventures, she has brought to life a selection of SMWS bottlings in a fun and playful way.
“The Scotch Malt Whisky Society pride themselves on doing things a little differently, and I started my research with some of the imaginatively named, unique bottles,” says Shona. “I was interested in the Society’s idea of ‘endless discoveries and adventures’, so combining this concept with some of the bottle names led me to create this world where the possibilities are infinite and you never quite know where it might lead you.
“I think there are 48 nods to bottle names, maybe more, in the artwork, and every time someone looks at the piece, they will notice something different.”
The Vaults, the spiritual home of the Society, unveiled Shona’s artwork at a special launch party on Saturday, September 30. If you haven’t already, make sure to take a moment and visit The Vaults to experience the fantastic artwork by Shona and marvel at the impressive renovation of our Members’ Room.
The Society is proud to have played a role in her artistic journey, and we’re eagerly anticipating what she’ll create next.
How many Society bottle names can you pick out from Shona’s artwork? You can find the full list of casks that inspired her here.