As houses go, Mount Stuart on the island of Bute is a doozy. A lavish neo-gothic broth of a building which sits overlooking the Firth of Clyde amidst 300 acres of gardens, its red sandstone exterior presenting a visual spectacle in its own right.

And that’s before you step inside to be met with an 80ft tall hallway, inlaid with more than 20 types of marble.

Look skywards and your eyes are dazzled by a vaulted map of the stars inlaid with glass crystals. Signs of the zodiac and their corresponding seasons illuminate the stained glass windows, shedding light on various spots according to the time of day.

It comes as no surprise to learn that it took a team of craftsmen 20 years to complete the interiors part of a major refurbishment in the late 19th century by the 3rd Marquess of Bute following a fire which damaged the fabric of the older smaller Georgian mansion.

With 117 rooms, full-size chapel, crypt and marble swimming pool in the basement, the Mount Stuart which exists today is a blousy younger sibling of the original house, built in 1719. It’s easy to get lost in the detail of Mount Stuart and, since 2001, the house has provided both an inspiration and a location for artists taking part in its acclaimed contemporary visual arts programme.

For a house which is replete with ancient rocks – kneel down in the upper gallery and you can actually see the flattened fossilised bodies of sea creatures in limestone which have been dead fo several millennia – it seems entirely appropriate that the 20th anniversary of this programme is marked by an exhibition inspired by geology.

In a new body of work, There is a Volcano Behind My House, Bute-based artist Ilana Halperin, strips away layer after layer and examines the relationships between rocks and minerals, between family and the deep time of the Earth. The geologic phenomena of Bute is her backdrop; in particular the Suidhe, an extinct volcano behind her home in Kilchattan Bay. The Highland Boundary Fault Line bisects the island, binding two migratory landmasses together.

Halperin’s interest in geology has been a constant in her life since attending an art and music-based high school in New York as a teenager where she trained as a stone carver. The streets of New York, she laughs, as we sit outside Mount Stuart in the sun, are not paved with gold, but with glittering mica schist. “The same type of frock inhabits the coast of Maine, vast areas of Scotland and Riverside Park along the Hudson.”

She describes this beautifully thoughtful new body of work as “a constellation, combining personal, poetic and corporeal responses to the house and island.”

Situated throughout the building; in the Drawing Room, Purple Library, Gallery, Family and Horoscope Bedrooms and The Crypt, specially commissioned sculptures, woven textiles and watercolours riff on ‘immigrant’ minerals that form the objects and architecture of Mount Stuart.

Like many exhibitions seeing the light of day in 2021, this show should have been staged last year. Although some of the work – such as two sets of watercolour paintings and etched mica “books” in the library – had been completed over a year ago, the 2021 iteration is, she says, a different proposition from the one which might have been.

Partly, this is down to changes in Halperin’s life mirroring the experience of many during the pandemic. She explains: “The exhibition at Mount Stuart has been waiting, growing – in a time requiring almost geologic patience. For me, this year has been a year unlike any other – as my mother died in September. It has been a year of grief for me and my family, as for so many families – here – and across the world. In Judaism we place stones in memory of those that we love. We have a lot of stones to place this year.”

The sense of deep time and us human beings rattling around in layers and layers of geological soup is palpable in Halperin’s work.

Her late mother, Gayle Portnow Halperin was an innovative sportswear and knitwear designer who, under her brand, Snazzi, helped revolutionise women’s fashion in the 1960s. Looking at a series of 36 watercolours by Halperin in Mount Stuart’s upper gallery, created as a direct response to the geological forms of Bute, you can see in the colours she uses, another line being drawn between her mother’s eye for mid-20th century colour and her memory of the landforms.

Again, her mother’s skill as a knitwear designer is reflected in two large scale woven textile works inspired by her field studies. Halperin worked with local designer and producer, Bute Fabrics to create these works. As she notes: “Textile, like sedimentary rock, is produced through an incremental process of growth – a geology of accumulated material.” These soft, undulating works, placed in different bedrooms, are steeped in layers of memory and meaning.

In Mount Stuart’s Crypt, Halperin newest sculptural work, The Rock Cycle, flips the idea that rocks by definition are ancient. A series of oddly misshapen stone-like objects have been arranged around circular floor tiles swaddled by vaulted columns.

These new hybrid rocks started life as either clay bricks or Victorian drainage tiles originally made on Bute and salvaged by Halperin over the years. In a process similar to that which forms stalactites in caves, she sent the bricks and tiles to Fontaines Pétrifiantes de Saint-Nectaire in France, where they were subjected to a process of being constantly “drowned” by calcifying springs which led a new layer of limestone to develop. Every new work created by Halperin finds its way into the fabric of Mount Stuart. Even though the work has to compete against the jostling grandeur of the house, for a book lover like myself, the stand-out work has to be The Library – in The Lbrary. To reach it, you walk through the Drawing Room, which basks under a ceiling encrusted with mica.

Halperin’s Library consists of etched “books” (as mineral samples of mica are known) of 400-800 million year old glittering rocks from the north of Scotland and New England.

Halperin’s laser etching on these glittering prizes, which sit companionably with ancient tomes on vast shelves, are a cross between cave drawings and kitsch 1970s ornaments.

Talk about playing time travel by the book… you’ll find it all on Bute. A companion audio work to There is a Volcano Beside My House called Excerpts from The Library will be presented by Ilana Halperin and others as part of Glasgow International from June 11.

Ilana Halperin: There is a Volcano Behind My House, Mount Stuart, Rothesay, Isle of Bute PA20 9LR, 01700 503877,, Opening daily, 10am – 5pm. From June 6 until August 15 October 30. Check website for entry fees.

Ilana Halperin: There is a Volcano Behind My House, Mount Stuart, Rothesay, Isle of Bute PA20 9LR, 01700 503877,, Opening daily, 10am – 5pm. From June 6 until August 15 October 30. Check website for entry fees.

Critic's Choice

One can only imagine what the overheated visual imagination of the late Willie Rodger would have made of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no doubting it would have fed into this master printmaker's art and reflected a gamut of emotions back at the viewer in one fell swoop.

Rodger, who died in 2018 at the age of 88 was one of Scotland's most respected printmakers; able to reflect poignancy, pathos, bathos and beauty – often with nothing more than the cut of a Stanley knife into an old piece of lino. In later life he started painting in oils and his ability to pare an imagined scene back to basics while losing none of its power was his calling card. Even to the end of his life, he was reflecting back what he felt and what he saw around him. Rodger's last painting, made in 2012, was called The Party’s Over. It depicts a smokey bar with a couple seated at one table and a man sweeping up while, on the floor, a lone couple dances.

This painting by Willie Rodger RSA, is currently on show alongside previously unseen screenprints, woodcuts and linocuts from his studio in the Academician's Gallery of the Royal Scottish Academy on The Mound, Edinburgh.

As the blurb says when you enter the virtual viewing room online: "This is not a retrospective, nor even a survey of his work, in the fullest sense of either term, but rather a selective body of work which scratches the surface of his prolific output."

Primarily known for his work in the relief printmaking techniques of linocut and woodcut; Rodger printed without the use of a press. He basically didn't stop working – in a wee attic room above his family home in Kirkintilloch – for over seven decades.

His back catalogue records several hundred editioned prints, and the same number or more which progressed no further than trial proof stages before being overtaken by the next idea.

This exhibition, as suggested by the title, shows work made from the early 1960s onwards and charts a distinct progression in style away from graphic prints towards the more figurative work for which he is renowned.

Some of the works, which are for sale, may be less familiar, or previously unknown to admirers. They include a selection of intaglio and screenprints executed under Arthur Watson PPRSA and his team at Peacock Printmakers in Aberdeen, with whom Rodger enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship.

Willie Rodger: Across the Board, Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL, 0131 624 6110,, Mon to Sat 10 – 5pm, Sun 12 – 5pm. Until June 20. Free - booking essential

Don't Miss

Degree Show season has started in Scotland with our smallest art school in Lochmaddy, North Uist, being first to display its talent to a waiting world. This academic year, two students; Maya Reid and Christopher Spears are graduating from Lews Castle College UHI's Fine Art course and their degree shows are currently on show at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre.

Lews Castle College UHI Degree Show, Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre, Lochmaddy Isle of North Uist HS6 5AA, 01870 603970,

Ends today (open 10am – 4pm). Free.