Stands Scotland Where She Did?: Timothy Neat at Seventy

October 2013

Publication: The Times

Tim Neat is an art historian, filmmaker, visual artist, potter, poet and  photographer. He grew up on a farm in North Cornwall and boarded there at Launceston, the son of an intelligent but largely uneducated father who lived by his wits and the labour of his hands. His mother had family connections in Skye and fostered Neat’s lifelong love of Scotland, its landscape, its people and its cultural history.


This survey exhibition celebrates Neat’s extraordinary career: his towering passion for literature and art, his championing of the dispossessed and marginalised, as well as his friendship with some of the most extraordinary creative talents of our time, such as Sorley MacLean, Seamus Heaney, John Berger and Ian Hamilton Finlay. His correspondence with the late Nobel laureate, in particular, reveals much about friendship and integrity.


The show includes fascinating documentary aspects of many of Neat’s projects, such as the making of his film Play Me Something which won The Europa Prize for best film at the Barcelona Film Festival in 1989.


Neat is the author of many books, including a major two-volume biography of Hamish Henderson and a string of others about Scotland’s artists, native bards, storytellers, travellers and singers. Most people would be more than content, as a lifetime’s achievement, to have written these books, but they are only a small part of the output of this fecund, restless, generous intellect.


Neat is a gifted portraitist, both as artist and photographer. Some of his ink and wash studies have a fluidity of line and form which, at best, capture the essence of his sitters ¾  for example, the photograph of a frail, almost pellucid Hamish Henderson shortly before his death.


Neat devotes a substantial portion of this show to his forebears, such as his grandfather Henry Haberfield Thomas , a superbly gifted aircraft designer who died of Spanish ‘flu in 1918 at the age of 32. There are touching, grainy, spontaneous photographs of his daughter on her wedding day.


Perhaps most significant is the photograph of his father, James Neat a weathered, bearded individual whose essence Neat seeks again and again in his empathetic quest to champion the underdogs, the grafters, the sons-of-the-soil.


Some of Neat’s most potent work was made this year. A sequentially numbered series of printed poems and abstracted images entitled ‘Twelve Stations of the Cross of Scotland 2013’ asks the question ‘Stands Scotland Where She Did?’ Avowedly anti-war and anti-establishment, it’s worth remembering some of these passionate, brutal, brave utterances : “what do the trees say when/ the axe comes into the forest   look   the handle is one of/ us   know them name them   glencoe   finlayson/kennedy   jenner   kemp   turing   assange   snowden”.


Neat is as hungry for ideas and projects as ever. He has long harboured a dream to make a film about the early life of MacDiarmid. His only obstacle: the funding. Given Neat’s track record, his capacity for hard work and advances in technology and distribution, surely someone, somehow, somewhere can put the money his way…?