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In Conversation with: Sadie Main, 'The Unicorn'

A close look at the latest instalment of the The New Aberdeen Bestiary

By Isabelle Hampton-Zabotti

Photo by Ian Cridland

At the top of Union Street, in Castlegate, there’s a spot wedged between an Italian and Thai restaurant. This is The Worm, the gallery space of Peacock, Aberdeen’s open access independent studio.

Created in 1974, the studio has been home to thousands of local and international artists, from printmaking, to video work, and even public installations. Since its conception, Peacock’s role is to “activate spaces where artists and citizens are, prompted by artworks to congregate around ideas and practices that interrupt everyday routines.”

My everyday routine certainly shifted one day, as my friend and I bumped into Neil Corral, Peacock’s marketing manager and print technician, who caught us peeking into the gallery. After kindly giving us a tour of the studio, we were invited to come along to the opening evening for Sadie Main’s contribution to the New Aberdeen Bestiary, The Unicorn. Her work is the 7th instalment to the Bestiary, which was a 3-year project that invited artists from across the globe to re-imagine the Aberdeen Bestiary—a 12th century compendium and historical artefact that features beautiful illustrations and descriptions of animals, real or imagined, and often possessing an allegorical nature. Sadie’s contribution was a revisiting of the Unicorn, one of the most magical creatures in the bestiary and Scotland’s national animal.

Having been fortunate enough to speak with Sadie on the night, I learnt about her journey into art, which was far from conventional.
Photo by Ian Cridland

Sadie, now 64, became an artist in her late 20s. She had been living in a women’s hostel, and a previously homeless member from the Aberdeen Cyrenians Workshop was looking for people to get involved with their projects. Sadie took the opportunity, and she told me, “I just always liked art. I live in this country, and I couldn’t read and write good, and I have a learning disability.” For Sadie, art was the mode in which she could express herself and represent the world as she sees it. Animals often feature in her art, though she tells me that mythical creatures are new for her, but that didn’t deter her, “Anytime I get the chance, I’ll give it a bash”.

Her prints reflect her enthusiasm, with her drawings conveying a childlike innocence in awe of magic.

At the same time, the gold and black contrast in her print “Royal Unicorn and Friend” hints at a mature perspective that comes from experience. Speaking later to the Peacock's Director and creator, Nuno Sacramento, I learned that Sadie is one of many artists who call Peacock their home, and whose perspectives exist outside of the mainstream. For example, the first artist for the Bestiary was Julio Jara, a performance artist from Madrid and another, Pedro G. Romero, had an instalment which paid tribute to the Gypsy, Traveller, and Roma communities in Scotland. Each artist brought a unique aspect of their worldview to their work, culminating in the New Aberdeen Bestiary and producing a tapestry of vivid experiences. Peacock and the worm will be celebrating this accomplishment in November 2024 at the Aberdeen Art Gallery, which will also mark their 50th birthday.


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