Obituary by James Fergusson

An appreciation of Gunnie Moberg by James Fergusson

This obituary appeared in  The Independent on Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Gunnie Moberg was an artist among photographers. Of all the books of George Mackay Brown, perhaps the most austerely handsome is Stone, printed by Gabriella and Martina Mardersteig at the Officina Bodoni and illustrated – with photographs of serene, sensual elegance – by Gunnie Moberg.

“We liked the idea of bringing two of our longest-standing friends together in one publication,” wrote its co-publisher Colin Hamilton last year in an introduction to a remarkable exhibition of 10 different bindings for the book by Faith Shannon shown at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh.

Brown’s 16 poems, crisp, Delphic, are complemented by the nine soft, almost abstract studies in Orkney shore geology selected from the thousand-odd photographs supplied by Moberg. Kulgin Duval, Hamilton and the Mardersteigs contrived a printing technique (applying a special coating to their hand-made paper) that elevates the images into something other than photographs; they are prints of an almost indeterminate medium, of extraordinary power and grace.

Gunnie Moberg had the artist’s eye for the small detail, never better evidenced than in the low house under the Black Craig that she shared with the shy, satirical Tam MacPhail, who runs the best small bookshop in Scotland. The garden, open to the prevailing winds and overlooking the baleful Sound of Hoy, is a masterpiece of intelligence and green-fingered subtlety, a sort of learned opportunism, and adorned and fortified by drystone walls built with her own hands. The house itself, light and open-plan, bears on every wall the marks of her taste and direction – paintings by her mother, paintings by herself, prints and linocuts by friends.

Of all the thousands of photographs taken by her over the years, however, she only hung one. Shot in Shetland at midnight in June, it is a backlit portrait of a cow called Astrid.

James Fergusson

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