Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan: The Bitter Cup

The watchie stands on a small headland, set somewhat apart from the cottages lining the clifftop that together make up most of the small Aberdeenshire village of Catterline. Lil Neilson first came to Catterline as an art student in the early 1960s. She’d met painter Joan Eardley at a summer school at Hospitalfield House in Arbroath and Joan had invited her to work alongside her in the watchie.

‘The Bitter Cup’ is a novelistic response to the archive of paintings and sketch books left behind by Lil Neilson upon her death in 1998, and the encounter experienced by Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan of this work, the landscape and their formative art experiences. Neilson’s work is framed in a fiction, which locates itself in the historical moment that the landscape of Scottish art was radically transformed – through a process that was dubbed ‘the Glasgow Miracle’. The story moves between a fictional coastal village in the East, and a mystical recollection of Glasgow, in the West, in this period. A single image, ‘A Place for 4 Women’, a painting by Lil Neilson set against the watchie garden and the sea, interrupts the text and acts as a premonition of the stories that follows. Evie, the main protagonist, is positioned in this shift, articulating the conflicts and antagonisms, desires and sexuality of her own, and the authors’ imaginary.