Born: January 25, 1947;

Died: July 25, 2022.

ERLEND Brown, who has died aged 74, was a well-known and much-admired painter and print-maker on Orkney, and was the first Curator of the island’s Pier Arts Centre.

He grew up in the small seaport of Stromness in Orkney, where the Brown family had lived for many generations. His playground was the winding street and closes, and the harbour where flatties and dinghies were ready to row and splash around the piers, or go fishing for cuithes and mackerel.

Stromness was immortalised by Erlend’s celebrated uncle, George Mackay Brown: “There was a harmony in the web of creation … Stromness (Hamnavoe) came last into the pattern, with piers, fishing boats, ships, and the lovely scrawl of stone houses under Brinkie’s Brae”.

Erlend shared George’s skills as a footballer, but while George then chose literature, a strong aptitude in the visual arts led Erlend to graduate in Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art.

A travelling scholarship then enabled him to study Art in Italy. He returned to Orkney and spent eight years teaching, finally as Head of Art at Stromness Academy.

On the opening in 1979 of the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, with its collection of leading British contemporary artists, he became its first Curator. Over more than a decade he exhibited many promising young artists, from home and away, giving the Pier the international reputation it deserves.

All this time he was developing his own work, drawing on the life and paraphernalia of the surrounding piers and harbour. Now recognised as a Scottish painter and print-maker of note, his first one-man show took place in 1983, in the Richard Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh.

At length Erlend left the Pier Arts Centre to paint full-time, while working as a part-time fireman.

The resulting ‘Pier and Ocean’ was staged at the Pier in 1993. Never a loner, his friendly interest in others led to a number of group projects.

A shared exhibition, entitled Shorelines, toured Scotland and Denmark. The Swiss Orcadian Conflux was a multi-media project that brought together 18 Orkney and Swiss artists, photographers, film-makers, composers and musicians, to share exhibitions and performances in Orkney and Switzerland. In Erlend’s own words, “It is the kind of experience which can quicken the imagination and give birth to new work”.

Erlend’s paintings feature in Sails in St Magnus, the series of banners prepared by four artists to hang in St Magnus Cathedral, celebrating St Rognvald’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

He also illustrated a number of books, including works published by the Orkney Press, and Portrait of Orkney, by George Mackay Brown.

For a time, he was based in Switzerland with his partner, Lea Schültz-Cohen. He then returned to Orkney to live and work in Birsay at his beloved Breck, by the Boardhouse Loch. Here he took part in community life, leading guided tours of the Boardhouse Mill.

In a tribute posted on Facebook the Pier Arts Centre said that between 1979 and 1989, Erlend “established the core principles that the Centre has since tried to embody, characterised elegantly by ... George Mackay Brown as ‘an “alma mater” for all the arts and artists in Orkney’ and ‘open house to artists and their work from every country and continent’”.

The centre added: “His dedicated support and encouragement to artists in Orkney was founded on his own deep understanding of the power of creativity and beyond his work at the Pier Arts Centre he will be remembered as an exceptionally fine artist, making work across many different media, from book-illustration to printmaking and painting”.

Erlend Brown is survived by his partner Lea, his son Martin and family, his sister Ingirid Morrison and his brother, John.


Bryce Wilson