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The Artist behind the Coo

28 Jun 2024

Earlier this month we caught up with Rio Moore who designed our sponsored coo 'River' on the Hairy Highland Coo Trail which is taking place over the next 10 weeks.

Rio is a local artist and the Art Coordinator for this CHAS Wild in Art Project and she shared with us her thoughts on design and a bit of background about her life as an artist.

Where did you find your inspiration from for the design?

During the process, I had a lot of Japanese influences coming through, mainly because they do a lot of design work based on water. I also have a tattoo background where I’m used to working with form and design. Here I wanted to tie it in with the pictish element which is local to the area and have a Celtic influence come through.

The new Perth Museum has some beautiful examples of medieval art, and the salmon imagery is something with is inherent in the culture in this area, so I wanted to try and bring that into the piece with a bit of fusion to bring it alive. A lot of what I do is visualize the end piece and then work back from that, but I’ve had to be quite playful with this one!

When I visited the visitor centre for inspiration there was a lot of green and particular styling for a lot of imagery so that was lodged in my brain. It’s then a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle, taking several components, and putting them together, then if you have a few gaps which are sky then it’s trying to fill in the blanks.

I love the Scottish landscape. A lot of my time is spent walking and picking up the colours and textures in my surroundings and having conversations with people.  I went down to the river, took some footage, and realised if you look at it through the naked eye, you get pinks, purples, greens, and blues and that’s what I’ve tried to bring through – the hidden colour of Scotland.

We’ve actually called the coo ‘River’ as a response to the landscape and waterscape.

Rio the designer, River the coo and Holly from SSERio, River and Holly from SSE Heritage at Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre

Were there any challenges during the creation phase?

There were a few challenges! As the artist coordinator for the project I’ve been juggling quite a few different balls, and decided that as much as I loved the location and the coo and everything else, it might be an idea to bring another artist Catriona MacKenzie onboard because I already had a lot on my plate, and we worked together on the sculpture, but in the way of these things it kept coming back to me, partly because Cat works as a Theatre dresser and also had time commitments, so time was probably the biggest challenge.

What is the most exciting part of this project for you as an artist?

I’m all about community – the public involvement and engagement. The role that I have is two-fold as artist coordinator I have the really fun job of connecting the artists and then giving them guidance and making sure they have the materials they need and that they return the sculpture at the right time. The other is as an artist and getting to meet people. Engaging with the public is so important and having that conversation about the role of art in society and at the end of the project when the pieces get auctioned off.

I’ve already been to CHAS’s Rachel and Robin Houses and met the people that work there. I didn’t have much involvement with the children, but I have friends and family that have been through similar situations, so I’m involved at an emotional level as well as wanting it to be a really good trail that everyone gets not only the fun of exploring the Scottish landscape and the elements of Perthshire but also doing it for a great cause.

How long have you been involved in the Wild in Art projects?

I’ve been involved in the trails for quite a long time. When the original Oor Wullie trail came up to Scotland and was launched it was quite a big deal and I was one of the artists involved in that. I was asked to do Oor Bowie which was down on the Riverside in Dundee. I’ve done about 13 sculptures now. The standout one was a giraffe that I did for Waverly station, it was the only giraffe that had a kilt and a mullet! It was a blank canvas and said do what you want, but we have a vision and try not to do this or that, then I just went at it with my paints and that’s generally what I do – bring a bit of colour to a blank canvas.

Oor Bowie sculpture
Oor Bowie sculpture

Highland Warrior sculpture
Highland Warrior sculpture

What made you become a professional artist?

The moment I knew I wanted to do art was as a little girl sat in Barbara Hepworth’s studio, the rain was pouring down and it was a very still moment. Lots of plants round me and one of her sculptures and it was just very, very beautiful and I had a moment where I was like I want to do that.

When I was 4, I got told I was an artist. I come from a background of creatives, but my mother and my father never got to do their art, so they invested their energy in their youngest child, kind of like you are the artist! So, I rebelled and decided not to do any art at all, till I hit a certain point. I went off travelling and ended up doing the biggest murals that I’ve ever done because it was like this little thing bubbling away inside of me. So I went to art college, I did all the traditional things that you do but a lot of it was just being asked by people to do stuff.

Rio as a little girl at Barbara Hepworth's studio
Rio as a little girl at Barbara Hepworth's studio



What motivates you to create?

For me, I would find it difficult not to and I think there are lots of artists and creatives like that. It becomes almost a buzz where it feels there is something wrong if I’m not creating, it’s part of who I am. If I get an idea of something I want to create, I don’t need to be employed to do it. 

I like doing projects where you bring people together and I quite like working with children because you get a freshness to that vision so what I’m usually doing is bouncing ideas off people and then listening and responding.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

My family were meant to move over to New Zealand before I was born. My mum and dad met at the British Museum where they both worked, and he was offered a curatorial job at an Art Gallery over in New Zealand before I was born, but just as they were about to depart the offer fell through, I’ve always thought we should have lived a life over in New Zealand and that one day I’d like to go there.

The other place is Canada because my family lived there. My great great grandmother went and travelled by herself as a spinster at the grand old age of 22 over to Red Deer and I’d like to retrace her steps and see a little bit of what she saw.

The Hairy Highland Coo Trail takes place from 28th June to 8th September across the whole of Perth and Kinross and features 30 giant highland cow sculptures. Each one is sponsored by a local business and decorated by local artists.

Our coo ‘River’ is situated at Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre and visitors are encouraged to take selfies and share these on social media channels using @hairyhighlandcootrail @pitlochrydam

When the trail ends the coos will be auctioned off at a special event to raise funds for CHAS to support children with life-shortening conditions and their families.  For more information visit https://hairyhighlandcootrail.co.uk/