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Age of Oil by Sue Jane Taylor

Visual artist Sue Jane Taylor’s vibrant, touring exhibition exploring Scotland’s elemental and evolving offshore energy industry opens at the Scottish Maritime Museum on Irvine Harbourside on Friday 8 March.

Hosted in association with National Museums Scotland, Age of Oil brings together a rich display of artworks, films, diary excerpts and artefacts drawn from Taylor’s residencies on North Sea oil platforms over the past decade.

The contemporary works explore the relationship between art, environment and industry across platform life, the vast decommissioning programme and the rise of renewable energy.

Images portray platform life and developments in energy technology including the Pelamis and Wello Penguin wave energy machines at the grid-connected European Marine Energy Centre at Billia Croo, Orkney.

As well as artworks, films and diary excerpts, Age of Oil features objects used in the oil industry. These include a ‘pipeline pig’, so named because it squeals as it cleans the inside of a pipeline; a passenger survival suit; a ‘tea flower’ designed to carry tea and coffee to waiting workers; and a driller’s telephone.

Taylor’s artistic interest in the North Sea oil and gas industry stirred as a child growing up in the Black Isle during the oil boom of the 1970s.

Since then, she has spent over thirty years capturing industry life gaining access to extremely remote and publicly inaccessible offshore installations. Age of Oil draws on projects undertaken over the past ten years.

The exhibition is complemented by three events. These include an Artist’s Sketchbook Workshop with Taylor on Sunday 17 March and Remembering Piper Alpha Panel Discussion on Saturday 6 July, the 31st anniversary of the disaster.

Announcing Age of Oil, David Mann, Director of the Scottish Maritime Museum, says: 

“We are thrilled to build on the well-received launch of our new national art collection last Autumn with this vibrant and insightful contemporary exhibition co-hosted with National Museums Scotland.

“Capturing work, life and play across Scotland’s coastline in all its grit and glory is very much at the heart of our new national art collection which includes works by Sue Jane as well as artists including FCB Cadell, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Muirhead Bone, Kate Downie and John Bellany.

“Sue Jane’s work featured in our first major art exhibition last Autumn. With Age of Oil, visitors have a wonderful opportunity to explore in much greater detail the intricacies and resilience of the engineering and people at work in this brutal environment few of us experience at first hand.”

Sue Jane Taylor describes the experiences informing her artworks: 

“Visually these offshore installations are brutal, not bonnie, built for pure function, crude oil and gas production, and more recently renewable power generation. Located in ever changing remote natural environments, over the years they have taken on their own individual social atmosphere created by people who have personalised their offshore work spaces.

“I witnessed at first hand the start of the oil and gas industry’s immense decommissioning programme, which constitutes such a complex and fascinating period in North Sea maritime history. I found it poignant watching workers, who have had lifelong attachments to their platform, shut it down, abandon their work site and end its life.”

Age of Oil will go on display across the Scottish Maritime Museum’s vast 1872 Linthouse building on Irvine Harbourside. The Grade A listed building was formerly the Engine Shop of Govan shipbuilders Alexander Stephen and Sons before being relocated to Irvine in 1991 to house the maritime collection.

The Scottish Maritime Museum’s new national art collection was created to enrich Scotland’s national maritime heritage collection. The art collection depicts the heavy industries of oil and shipbuilding, war at sea through to tranquil scenes of fishing boats and island seascapes. Artworks extend across a range mediums, from oil painting, watercolour, sketching and photography through to sculpture and mixed media.

This is the second major touring exhibition to feature at the Scottish Maritime Museum. Renowned Scottish artist, and broadcaster, Lachlan Goudie’s extraordinary ‘Shipyard’ exhibition, exploring life in Scotland’s modern shipyards, took place in early 2018.

Entrance to Age of Oil, which runs until 7 July, is included in the Museum admission.

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