What is immediately striking about this composition is the blue of the palette and the way each of the six separate studies fill up their frame. The overall effect is one of stillness and tightness. Allison Young painted these watercolours during her time as Artist in Residence at Edinburgh Zoo in 2001. At that time, the Foot and Mouth epidemic restricted visitors' access but Allison was allowed in the areas closed off to the public and was able to paint quietly on site. Without the crowds around, the animals adopted a more static behaviour than usual which Allison describes as "a kind of quiet dignity". It is this calm and poise that she wanted to convey with these studies.
Artists prefer to use watercolour when painting outdoors as it allows them to paint quickly. Normally animals can be difficult to portray because they move suddenly when startled but, due to the epidemic, the zoo was unusually quiet at that time and Allison was able to make swift but detailed studies while they stood still. Allison's two most endearing portraits are of the ever popular chimpanzee, which she has captured in mid-flight, quizzically staring back at her, and of the shy lemur which glances furtively at her over its shoulder.
The six studies are bound together by their blue palette, which is brightened up with touches of sparkling, almost gold, yellow and by the artist's expert handling of watercolour, an especially difficult medium to master, particularly when time is limited.
Today Allison is better known for her sweeping watercolours of the seascapes of Shetland, East Lothian and Tiree, the latter famous for the intense blue of its waters which she offsets against vast skies and empty sandy beaches. She frequently revisits the same places to capture the different moods of the seasons.
Allison studied at Edinburgh College of Art and is now based in Edinburgh where she has a studio with WASPS. She exhibits regularly all around Scotland and is represented in many galleries.
With thanks to Allison Young for providing insights into this work.