Author Archives: absentvoices


Rod Miller

I managed to catch up with another artist involved in the Absent Voices Project: Rod Miller. Rod’s been working on the walking drawing tours with Annie as well as working at All Saints School. Rod mentioned that the children really understood and related to the importance of sugar to the local area and were fascinated at just how many things are made from sugar bi-products. So a good job done there.


But Rod’s role in the project doesn’t end there as he is also exploring how the local sugar industry was represented in the works of such artists as Sir Stanley Spencer and Joan Eardley. These two artists recorded the local shipbuilding industry in their works, an industry that no exists except in the remnants of the Sugar Sheds at James Watt Dock and the Glebe refinery building. Rod is therefore talking to the community, gleaming stories and memories from the people about the sugar trade and it’s impact to inspire his paintings. So he is always on the look out for more people to talk to. So please just get in touch if you have anything to share about both the sugar and shipbuilding industries. Thank you.


Through talking to Rod I came to realise there is much more to his artist practice than just research, compose and paint. As Rod said himself, “Painting is non of your leisurely relaxing airy fairy routine. It’s hard work and graft and feeling.”

Painting is a solo effort and is pretty intense. First, he works things out in his head, often going from ideas straight  to canvas. Sometimes he might work about with the composition on paper and draw some of the parts out with pencils and charcoal but these always seem to change a bit when he starts to paint in oils.


When Rod gets into the painting itself more often that not things start to change again. It will end up looking quite different from what he had in his head when he started out. But that’s just the creative process, the part where the painting is creating itself. It take’s on it’s own life force and energy and dictates to the artist how it wants to look.
Rod mentions a struggle at this point between him and the painting. Between how he wants the painting to look and how the painting itself wants to be seen. In the end the painting always wins.

I found it fascinating talking to Rod about his artist’s process and the energy that exudes from the final art works. Thank you for sharing Rod, it was a pleasure.
©Anne McKay

Drawing Event on 30th May.

Brush up your drawing skills with Anne McKay, graduate of the Glasgow School of Art.
Drawing Event in the Greenock Art Club on 30th May.
This event will be the first of three 4 hour workshops, in May and June, where you can learn new techniques in a friendly and productive environment,

All levels of ability/experience are most welcome and there is a maximum of 10 places for each class, which will allow for indepth tuition and encouragement.The further two workshops will be in held in RIG Arts, Greenock, on 6th and 13th June at 1pm until 5pm. To book a place, please go to Facebook Absent Voices Community Page, and “join” whichever workshop(s) you would like to attend.
A big thank you to The Greenock Art Club and RIG Arts for supporting Absent Voices.
©Alec Galloway

Glass with Alec Galloway

Alec Galloway will be holding FREE glassmaking workshops as part of the wider Absent Voices project to tell the creative story of Greenock’s once-mighty sugar industry. Alec has booked the Pirrie Hall at the Old West Kirk, in Greenock for the stained glass classes. The first group of three run  for three Fridays; 9th,16th and 23rd May. The next will be held on Saturdays; 31st May, 7th June and 14th June. Each class will run from 12.30pm till 3.30pm. Alec is asking for people to commit to the block of three Fridays and three Saturdays as separate blocks. If you are interested, please contact Alec on Alec will also be doing mini talks in the church as part of the classes to highlight some of the techniques in painting and staining.
©Graeme Nichol

Walking Drawing Tours

For the past few months now, artist Anne (Annie McKay) has been facilitating walking drawing tours around the Sugar Sheds. The tours involve walking around the sheds inside and out, sharing the history of the buildings as well as looking into the details; the fabric of the sheds themselves. Along the way, it’s important that the participants become familiar with the environment, it’s history and significance, as well as learn and develop their drawing skills. Mark making, tone, lines, textures and shapes are all explored as they gain confidence in their drawing abilities. Annie hopes to continue with further drawing tours throughout the year up until November. Not only is Annie involved in these tours but she is also working with a number of primary schools in Greenock to create artworks for the Absent Voices project as well as finding time to concentrate on her own art work.  After being brought up just down the road from the sheds, Absent Voices as a project feeds into Annie’s desire to interact with the community around such themes of their shared heritage and history.
©Graeme Nichol

©Graeme Nichol

I managed to catch up with one participant from the series of walking drawing tours, Graeme Nichol. A self-motivating artist, he joins each tour with three aims; to have fun, to learn new techniques and to be inspired through the practice to observe, conceptualise and capture future ideas. The last tour Graeme joined was useful for providing new insight into the buildings.  Different details where picked out in the shadows. This particular session, Graeme became interested in the shadows of the cranes and the reflection of the sheds in puddles outside. The group setting is very supportive and enjoyable, as well learning from each other reinforces the value of these events, events that are  worth repeating.   Graeme has passed the Sugar Sheds for years going on holiday and hadn’t really understood the industry and history of the place. Having a love for the sea and all things maritime, Absent Voices is providing Graeme with the fascinating opportunity to experience the Sugar Sheds and explore the contact between the sea and the sugar industry.
©Graeme Nichol

©Graeme Nichol

  Graeme was kind enough to share some of his work produced during the walking drawing tours. For one particular session, they were experimenting with working with templates to build up drawings. The drawings started during the tour are used as a reference archive. This archive Graeme has utilised as he works up some of his charcoal drawings to exhibit at the Seagull gallery in Gourock. One of the first drawings he developed has now been sold through the Rig Gallery. This is excellent news and demonstrates one of the many ways in which this project, and Absent Voices as a whole is touching and changing the local community’s lives.
©Graeme Nichol

©Graeme Nichol

Life Drawing ©Rod Millar

Figure Drawing: Saturday 26th April

Come along to Greenock Art Club and join Absent Voices artist Rod Miller in drawing periodic clad workers from the sugar refineries. Following on from the Drawing Tours of the Sugar Sheds, come along and draw some character workers from the sugar industry. We will start with ‘syrup girls’ in period dress and go on from there if demand requires. All materials and refreshments will be supplied. Places are limited and can only be booked my contacting Rod directly on : or on 07765419421.
Whinhill Primary School P6 ©Anne McKay


Have you met the syrup girls? Those young female workers who were only allowed into the Sugar Sheds come 1902? They were wee lasses brought in to pour the syrup. The young children at Whinhill Primary School have met the syrup girls and are getting to know them better as they bring them to life through the Absent Voices school projects.
Yvonne, Nicole and Kevin at Whinhill Primary ©Anne McKay

Yvonne, Nicole and Kevin at Whinhill Primary ©Anne McKay

Yvonne Lyons and Annie McKay have been spending time in Whinhill Primary School reimagining life in the past for Greenock with the younger  generation of the present with the aim of creating a more flourishing future for everyone in Greenock. The young children are working across the creative genres of art and music to visualise as well as  vocalise the variety of characters who came into contact with the Sugar Sheds. You can hear more about the project here: What this project achieves, along with Annie’s school project in All Saint’s last year, is the next generation learning about their history but not in the usual, sometimes boring straightforward kind of way.
Anne McKay with artwork produced by P6 at Whinhill Primary School.

Anne McKay with artwork produced by P6 at Whinhill Primary School.

These children are learning new knowledge at the same time as new skills through the arts. Through being creative these children are learning but through these interactive ways they are taking ownership of their learning, gaining in confidence and supporting each other. The artwork this school has created along with the songs they have written will be shared to the community during a special pop-up event happening at The Beacon this Friday, 28 March from 2.30-8.30. This is an opportunity for the Greenock community to find out more about the project as well as how they can get involved too.

Sweet Day Out At Beacon Arts

WHAT: Absent Voices Pop Up Show WHEN: Friday 28th March 2014 from 2.30-8.30pm WHERE: Beacon Arts Centre, Custom House Quay, Greenock, PA15 1HJ Full press release: Absent Voices Popup at Beacon Arts Centre Invitation flyer: Pop-up Invitation


A group of Inverclyde-based artists and musicians is holding a free day-long event featuring live music and art at Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre. The group of eight artists-in-residence at Greenock’s historic A-listed Sugar Sheds have been working on a project called Absent Voices, exploring the rich legacy of the sugar industry in Inverclyde. Primary schools, community groups and members of the public have been collaborating with the artists-in-residence and now the group wants to share this work-in-progress with the public. The artists are also looking for people who worked in the sugar industry to come forward and take part in the Absent Voices project. Their memories will contribute to a visual and sonic archive which the artists are currently building up as a lasting legacy. The Absent Voices Pop Up will take place on Friday, March 28 from 2.30 until 8.30pm. The eight artists will be joined by celebrated Inverclyde maritime artist, James Watt, who will display several of his iconic Clydeside paintings for one day only. Mr Watt will be speaking at the event about the importance of drawing as a tool for gathering information. Absent Voices lead artist, Alec Galloway, said: “As a group we have all been working on creating an archive which will tell the story of the once-mighty sugar industry in Inverclyde. “This pop-up event will give us a chance to spread the word about Absent Voices far and wide and to encourage members of the public to become involved in this exciting initiative.”


  • A display of drawings, paintings, photography, stained glass and poetry inspired by Inverclyde’s sugar industry heritage
  • Artwork produced by Inverclyde primary schools and community groups
  • Absent Voices artists, Rod Miller & Anne McKay, sharing their experiences of Sugar Sheds drawing walks in which members of the public have taken part
  • Live performances from Kevin McDermott and Yvonne Lyon ((check Absent Voices website for timings)
  • Samples from an under-construction soundtrack of the Sugar Sheds by Ryan King & Alan Carlisle
  • Beautiful Sugar Shed-inspired photography by Alastair Cook, alongside new writing from Scottish poet John Glenday.
  • The opportunity to sign up for FREE workshops in stained glass, urban sketching tours around Inverclyde, digital photography and songwriting.

This is a story about a benevolent custom on repeat. About the burnt sugar smell of rum on your breath, and the wolves from hell inflaming your heart with greed. Greed for cubes of sugar winking like stars. Greed for the irresistible sickness of sweet cane syrup.

Greed, Sheree Mack, 2014

In my capacity as writer in residence at the Lit and Phil, I was tasked with linking up with the local museum which had a special South African exhibition on over the summer of 2012. I was hoping to have Gérard Rudolf there but he had returned home to South Africa a few years before. Before he left for home, he collaborated with Alastair Cook on a number of filmpoems. As the next best thing, Gérard suggested I get in touch with Alastair to get a screening organised for the night in question. Alastair has a very commanding manner. I was hoping to just get a DVD though the post but he insisted on coming down and screening them himself. All 4 of them. This was in June. By the August, I was visiting Alastair in Dunbar, while he was artist in residence at the MacArthur Store. This was when the famous collodion image of me was created, on an overcast Saturday with my screaming daughter on my lap. Alastair went on to commission me to create a poem for the then Absent Voices filmpoem project which saw six poets re-inhabits the abandoned Greenock Sugar Sheds with six films. We created Every Memory with musical support from Luca Nasciuti.
Palms ©Sheree Mack 2014

Palms ©Sheree Mack 2014

Now we reach 2014, and once again Alastair commissioned me to create three new poems in relation in to the sheds, but more so exploring the hidden dark histories, the connections of sugar to the Caribbean and West African through the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. In all honesty, this was probably my hardest commission to date. The weight of responsibility upon my shoulders in voicing this history as well as wanting to truly honour and respect this devastating past was at times crippling. There are so many different narratives and angles to this long history of slavery making it difficult to know where to start and where the end. Which issues or stories should receive that light of attention? Which issues could translate to a contemporary audience? For me it always has to be about the body. A body once free then captured. Within captivity, this body experienced very little agency or comfort. This body bore the brunt of enslavement through physical, emotional, sexual and psychological abuse. What everything boiled down to was how much value could be forced out of this one body. Just a body. The next step was thinking about the relationships, those connections between the body and other bodies. Those power relations that were a given, that could not be challenged or changed. The only power the enslaved body had was through its removal by any means necessary. With the first slaves, taken onto the big ship destined for the New World, the story goes that when the shackles were taken off they just floated up and flew back home. Through experience, the ship’s crew learned their lesson. From then on, they kept the cargo chained within the belly of the ship. After their first meal of salted fish, the crew saw that the slaves could not fly. I like to think that this story is true. I give hope to the idea that the enslaved body could somehow be free by rejecting the state of life that it was forced into. I like to hope that they, the individuals who were kidnapped, stolen and breed in slavery were keeping some part of themselves free from all shackles through thinking about sky or dreaming of walking home across the ocean floor.

You can touch me now. I have made myself stone. […] You can touch me. The wild current running under my heart you cannot touch.

Touched, Sheree Mack, 2014

James Watt Dock ©CJHurst 2014

Free Drawing Tour: Saturday 15th March 2014

Anne Mckay and Rod Miller will once more lead you into the sheds for three hours of drawing fun. Graphite and charcoal, industrial architecture, river side views, figure work, it’s all happening at the Sugar Sheds. As ever the event is FREE and all materials will be supplied by the Absent Voices project. Contact Anne Mckay or Rod Miller to be book your place as numbers are limited. Leave a message on our Facebook Event page, ‘like’ the event, click ‘going’ or send a text to Rod on 07765419421, you can also email or