The legacy of Robert Burns is unlike any other and, hundreds of years later, his work is still inspiring the current generation of creatives in ways he never could have imagined.
The awareness and popularity of Robert Burns on a global scale is so huge that you’d be forgiven for thinking of him as a mythical creature – such is his unmatched legacy. While the world has been blessed with some truly great writers and poets, few are celebrated in the same way as Scotland’s national bard. Not even the great William Shakespeare has an entire day dedicated to him, but our Rabbie does!
While not everyone will know that he’s responsible for its creation, you’ll be hard pushed to find anyone who hasn’t sung a few lines of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, his ode to eternal friendship, with the song even featuring in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies. Yes, like a fine wine – or in our case, a fine whisky – Robert Burns seems only to get better with age.
For a’ that
Since his death in 1796, Burns has maintained a firm grip on the consciousness of creative minds both within Scotland and further afield. Regarded as a pioneer of the ‘Romantic movement’, Burns’ emotionally charged verses that centred on the natural world inspired greats like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Sir Walter Scott. Fast forward to the modern era and his impact is still keenly felt in the works of artists like Bob Dylan, who famously stated that Burns’ ‘A Red, Red Rose’ was his greatest creative inspiration.
As well as this, Burns was also very politically minded. True to the ideals that Scotland holds just as strongly today through some of our world-leading initiatives, Burns’ ‘Is There for Honest Poverty’, is famous for its strong views on equality for everyone. It’s this firm belief that led to him becoming a great source of inspiration for both slavery abolitionist, Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. Douglass frequently quoted Burns as he campaigned for the abolition of slavery, and Lincoln was known to be able to recite entire Burns poems from heart.
For a man so in touch with his emotions and his own sense of right and wrong, it’s easy to see why Burns is so highly regarded – that he had quite the way with words is just the icing on the cake. It’s understandable then, that the current generation of Scots are still influenced by Burns’ work, creating completely new and exciting products.
Craig Black – Bringing Robert Burns’ words to life in new ways
Based in Gourock, just 50 miles north of Burns’ hometown, Craig Black is a world-renowned designer, lettering artist and typographer. Known for his bespoke and innovative murals and installations, Craig’s work has been displayed everywhere from London to Sydney, Barcelona and Dubai. When he isn’t developing jaw-dropping works of art, Craig is also co-founder and Creative Director of Creative Inverclyde, a social enterprise dedicated to using the creative industries to foster positive social change across Scotland.
Last year, Craig was asked to turn his considerable skills to the subject of Robert Burns, creating a striking mural celebrating Burns’ cultural legacy which is now proudly displayed in his home region of Ayrshire. Craig was keen to use his own unique style to encapsulate Burns’ iconic creative genius, but what was it about Burns specifically that helped inspire his stunning design?
“When creating the mural, I wanted to make sure it was eye-catching from a distance as well as capturing intriguing little details that you need to inspect closely, such as the wee mouse on top of the letter ‘T’. This makes the viewer engage more deeply into the work, very much like Robert Burns did with his poetry”.
Craig also points out that, as a fellow Scot, just getting to follow in the footsteps of Burns is incredibly inspiring in and of itself. He is amazed by Burns’ legacy in Scotland, and the rest of the world, and hopes one day that his own incredible work will leave an impact on Scotland in a way similar to the poet.
Like the legendary figures of Douglass and Lincoln before him, Craig admits that ‘Is There for Honest Poverty’ is one of his favourite Burns poems; mainly because it represents his own belief that people need to come together to create a better world. This shared philosophy is evident in the amazing work that Craig and the team do at Creative Inverclyde – using the arts to drive positive social change.
Craig is also very quick to appreciate why Burns was so inspired by the land around him, pointing out that it is hard not to be moved by Scotland’s natural beauty.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel the world and see some truly incredible places but nothing beats the beauty of Scotland. The lands and views are truly stunning and what I love most is how accessible it is from cities to beautiful rural places across our country. My home studio is literally 100 yards from the water and every morning I wake up and see the beautiful views, it’s honestly breath-taking”.
So, what advice would Craig give to the next generation of creative minds who are aspiring to follow on the works of greats like Burns and perhaps one day, Craig’s own impressive pieces?
“Practice, practice, practice. I can’t stress enough the importance of this. Also, you don’t need any fancy tools, pencil and paper are all you need - start drawing away. Go to meetups, talks and networking events. Step out of your comfort zone and say hello to people and be known as that ‘amazing creative’ because when that time comes when people need help with their businesses, you want to be at the forefront of their mind and the only way to do that is to put yourself out there”.
Arran Distillers – home of the official Robert Burns whisky
The Isle of Arran Distillers are an independently owned and operated whisky company on, you guessed it, the Isle of Arran. Perfectly described by those who visit it as ‘Scotland in miniature’ Arran sits on Scotland’s west coast, just a short ferry trip from the mainland. It’s here, at their Lochranza distillery in the north of the island, that the world’s only officially endorsed Robert Burns Malt Whisky is produced.
“As the distillery closest to where Robert Burns was born, we were a natural partner for the Robert Burns World Federation and we’ve worked together since 1998. Burns worked as a customs officer in the region and probably would have been familiar with the illicit whisky stills on the Isle of Arran back in his time. We like to think he would have enjoyed seeing our company bring legal whisky production back to his region”.
The distillery also acts as a patron of the Robert Burns World Federation, which plays a large role in ensuring that the works of Scotland’s national poet are remembered and enjoyed around the globe. Founded in 1885, the federation is the oldest national literary association in Scotland. Today, the federation boasts more than 250 member clubs from countries all around the world and continues its mission to bring the life and works of Burns to as many people as possible.
So, what was it about Burns that inspired the Isle of Arran Distillers to create their very own range of whiskies dedicated to the great man? Simply put, they were inspired by how fondly Burns spoke of the land around him, and wanted to use the ingredients from the same land to create a whisky that even the man himself would have been proud to taste.
“We have always been very proud of being an independently owned Scottish company that puts quality right at the forefront of everything we do. Burns’ creativity and enthusiasm for the country of his birth really resonates with us and we are in the fortunate position to be able to take our product worldwide to spread the knowledge of not just our whisky but also our heritage and Burns himself”.
Of course, these are just a few examples of the many, many ways that Burns continues to influence and inspire the people that came after him. Thanks to people like Craig, and the Isle of Arran Distillers, it’s clear that Burns is still being celebrated centuries after his death, and likely will be for many more centuries to come.