‘Logical Confusion’, a retrospective exhibition of Mike McDonnell opens at the Shetland Museum

An ambitious new exhibition dedicated to the artistry of well-known local artist Mike McDonnell opened this weekend at the Shetland Museum and Archives. The retrospective, ‘Logical Confusion’, shows the diversity of Mike’s work as an artist, community activist and creative initiator.

Mike McDonnell (1939 – 2022) came to Shetland in the 1970s where he worked as a doctor in Yell and Fetlar, but he was also a prolific artist. During his lifetime he produced well over 200 works, most of them created during the last 20 years of his life after retirement. His pictures and sculptures, mainly of mixed media construction were popular and are now scattered worldwide in private collections as well as homes of family and friends.

This impressive exhibition, which comprises over 80 pieces of varying size, is a representative sample of Mike’s work, organised chronologically and reflective of themes that interested him – local commentaries, politics, religion, environmental issues, poetry, art, music and philosophy.

Karen Clubb SMAA exhibition officer explained: “Logical Confusion is a celebration of the eclectic nature of McDonnell’s work. It is a retrospective exploring over 20 years of his work with an emphasis on the process as well as the final pieces. We wanted to bring the man behind the art to the fore and the exhibition includes samples of his sketchbooks, photographs of his Yell studio, and a recreation of his workbench complete with the tools and materials of his last, unfinished piece which he was working on before he died in 2022.

“Many of the pieces are quite striking in their simplicity – mostly made from found objects or ‘scran’ – perhaps from a skip, his workshop floor, or the flotsam and jetsam from the shores of Yell, all re-purposed and re-fashioned into incredible pieces of art.

“It is exciting to see Da Gadderie transformed into a totally different space from our last exhibition, which featured the striking black and white photography of Diane Arbus. From Saturday, the gallery and other areas of the museum building will be alive with the bold, often humorous and political pictures of mixed media construction that are bound to inspire a new generation of artists. With a marked preference for puns and plays on words, Mike’s humour and unique creative approach add character to what has become the undeniable McDonnell style. Curating this exhibition has been a real privilege, and we are grateful to the artist’s family and to his many friends who have helped piece the jigsaw together and lent works for display.”

Jonathan Wills, a close friend of McDonnell has, together with McDonnell’s family, Jean Urquhart and other friends and associates been integral to the direction of the exhibition. He said: “Dr Mike McDonnell was an extraordinary man who in his professional and personal life always used his many talents for the public good. He was an imaginative genius, and we are so delighted that the pieces in the exhibition reflect our passion for Mike’s work and our aspiration for it to be accessible to a wider audience.”

Local artist, Paul Bloomer, will give a talk on Thurs 30 November at 7.00pm in the museum, where, joined by Jonathan Wills, he will take a deep dive into McDonnell’s sketch books and notebooks which show that often Mike had a clear, logical plan when he began a work, but sometimes he ended up with something entirely unexpected.

Tickets to the talk are available from Shetland Museum and Archives Box Office for £5.

A number of McDonnell’s pieces will be available for the public to buy together with an accompanying biographical book, written and published by Jonathan Wills. A range of exclusive items produced for the museum shop including sets of postcards, a bookmark, and a commemorative catalogue will also be available.

The exhibition runs from 25 November 2023 – 25 February 2024.

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