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Free whisky in the Scottish Highlands? Artist Daniel Barrow drinks it all in

Daniel Barrow, the Canadian recipient of this year’s Glenfiddich Artist-in-Residence award

Stephanie Noritz

Imagine being paid to make art in a distillery – and no, this is not an unpublished William Faulkner story. Montreal artist Daniel Barrow, 41, is the Canadian recipient of this year's Glenfiddich Artist-in-Residence prize. He and seven other artists will spend three months this summer working in the Scottish Highlands at the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown.

The scotch manufacturer has been inviting artists from around the world to its arts program in the northeast of Scotland for 12 years. The residency is valued at $20,000, and more valuable is the fact that the artists are free to work without limits or deadlines, inspired by the landscape of the Highlands.

Glenfiddich is only one of many companies to realize the potent symbiosis of commerce and art. Another whisky manufacturer, Jura, runs a writer-in-residence program at its distillery in the Hebrides Islands. In London, England, Heathrow Airport also hosts a writer-in-residence, and underprivileged art students receive mentoring through the Louis Vuitton Young Arts Project. At Shanghai's Swatch Art Peace Hotel (its actual name), the manufacturer of whimsical watches invites a "limited number of artists" to live and work at the hotel every year.

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The Globe and Mail's Elizabeth Renzetti spoke to Daniel Barrow, whose vibrant work combines drawing, video and performance, about his upcoming residency.

How do you feel about scotch?

I love scotch. I can't wait to enjoy a scotch while I'm sitting in the middle of the Highlands. It'll be paradise.

Do you have a connection to Scotland?

My parents are from Scotland. My dad's from Glasgow, and he moved back to Scotland in 2003. I've visited him, but I've never been to the Highlands.

The initial appeal of the residency, apart from its prestige, was the landscape. Working with a landscape that epitomizes the melodrama of natural beauty was a primary inspiration for applying. I imagine that will take centre stage in whatever project I decide to develop.

Although a lot of your work takes place in the dark.

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Yes, I mostly work with projections. I'm stationed behind an overhead projector manipulating drawings while I'm telling a story, and the drawings fit together in some registered way. But I've also been inspired by landscape artists – I've been spending a lot of time looking at [British painter] John Robert Cozens.

While you're at Glenfiddich, do you get as much free scotch as you want?

I can only imagine, but yes, I think so. I talked to Damian Moppett, who was the Canadian artist in residence a couple of years ago, and he said he had access to the absolute finest whiskies.

Glenfiddich sponsors this artists' program, and Jura has a writers' residency at its headquarters in the Hebrides. Are whisky distillers the new Medicis?

I didn't know about the writers' residency, but the Glenfiddich prize has a huge reputation in Canada. I can only hope that every whisky company will get in line.

Tell us a little bit about what you might get up to this summer.

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I submitted a proposal that was kind of vague, but focused on the landscape of the Highlands. It'll definitely involve drawing. I didn't want another residency with any specific deadline. What often happens is that I'll be racing toward a deadline that has nothing to do with the place where I'm actually working. I'd like to arrive in Scotland and be inspired by everything – the community and the people and the landscape, and let the project grow out of that environment.

Will leaving Montreal inform your art?

It will. There are both good and bad aspects. At home, I know where my pair of scissors is and where my measuring tape is. It's more convenient to work at home, but there are more interruptions. In Montreal, I have a social circle, friends coming into town to play. In Scotland I'll be quite isolated. I'll have a community of artists I'm working with, but we'll all be divorced from our personal lives and our careers, so we'll be forging new relationships.

Is alcohol good for art?

In this case it is. This year I can safely say that alcohol is very good for my art.

Finish the sentence: "A drunk artist is …"

… a funded artist.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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