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Issue 49 - Painting the nation

Scotland Magazine Issue 49
February 2010


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Painting the nation

Amanda Brock looks at 10 of the best artists who paint Scotland and its population.

The Englishman and former MP, Michael Portillo, may seem an odd place to start an article on 10 of the best living artists painting Scotland, but watching a documentary of his train journey from Edinburgh to Kirkcaldy I discovered his interest in Scottish art. Following up with Michael it turns out that his grandfather, John W Blythe, was the curator of Kirkcaldy Art Gallery from its opening in 1926 for some 36 years. During this time he amassed a collection numbering in the 100s of some of the most famous of Scotland’s artists including many landscape painters, in a collection including Peploe, Fergusson, Leslie Hunter, Cadell, Hornell, Lowry, Sickert, Duncan Grant and Flint. Listening to Portillo, who is clearly enthused by this collection, I was struck by his comment that as a boy he was not only struck by the colour of the paintings, but found them immediately intelligible. It is my belief that these are the qualities in Scottish lanscape painters that make them so popular even today. Here are 10 of my favourites.

10Jack Frame, runner up in the Jolomo Scottish Landscape Painting Awards 2009, paints beautiful trees, in a mixed media including painting and etching on glass to give a translucent quality to his work.

Having graduated from Glasgow School of Art only three years ago, Jack is an emerging talent in the Scottish art scene and his work has a quirky beauty. I particularly love his pink blossom trees.

9Mathew Draper, the mists of Matthew’s pastels give way to glimpses of the immediately recognisable land marks of Scotland whether the city of Edinburgh or the rolling Sutherland landscape. In soft blues and browns, it almost feels like Draper has captured the very air around us as it swirls high above the skyline of Auld Reekie or stretches long in to the mountainous night.

Draper’s large pastels on paper are a ghostly outline of Scotland’s landscapes.

8Anna King, Ducan of Jordanstone graduate, King, was the winner of the first Jolomo Scottish Landscape Painting Awards in 2007. As a painter of “interior and exterior landscape” Anna explores the empty and ferral in our landscape. The despondancy and dreechness of the abandoned spaces which form the subject matter of her work are quickly washed away in the blocks of soft colour on stretching white paper, which, defined by a few pencil strokes, have created an extremely personal and instantly recognisable style, unlike that of any other artist painting Scotland. Anna paints a side of Scotland which is to me evocative of my childhood running wild in the Scottish countryside, exploring derelict barns and falling down sheds. She paints sites which may not be there the next time you are - decaying buildings, freight containers and redundant spaces. Although her most recent work has focused on landscape outside of Scotland and interiors, she is currently working on a series of paintings of a factory, in Granton.

7Lesley Anne Derks paints night and light. Having grown up in Falkirk, she developed a fascination with the lights of the neighbouring Grangemouth chemical plants and since graduating from Glasgow School of art, has developed a unique technique of painting light at night. Her luminescent lights glow and reflect in the nights of the city and her work has transcended into some of the most atmospheric night paintings of Scotland.

Immensely popular, her art is sold in print and original form by the UK’s biggest print company Washington Green, where she is recognised as one of their rising stars.

6Erni Upton, draws inspiration from the beauty and colours of Scotland’s coastal waters having grown up in Ayrshire. Having lived for many years in England, Upton returns each year to his native West Coast to sail, sketch and prepare images of his subject matter. He paints in the tradition of the Scottish Colourists working with oil using brush and knife.

5Helen Glassford, trained at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, and was runner up in the 2007 Jolomo Landscape Awards. She paints Scotland in a soft pallet of earthy colours, sweeping brush strokes giving the viewer a sense of the space of the vast mountain landscapes she climbs and paints. Helen’s abstract work captures the ever changing atmosphere and weather which creates a constant shift in the light of the landscape of Scotland.

4Jamie Hageman, “has emerged from the mountains of Glencoe as an astounding self-taught painter of hyper-realist landscapes,” said Susan Mansfield, The Scotsman. Hageman’s paintings may initially be mistaken for photographs but closer inspection soon reveals that his incredible detailed work is more beautiful than any photo. One of the finest painters of snow, Hageman captures the mountains from the privileged views of an accomplished climber.

In 2008 Caledoniart exhibited the 2007 Jolomo Awards finalists in London- Jamie’s work sold out during the week long exhibition. As we were unpacking I placed one of Jamie’s signature paintings of a snow laden Glencoe in the window. Two hours later it was sold, a few days later all of the work Jamie had provided us with was sold and we had 5 people queuing to buy an unseen work completed during the exhibition. Jamie had his first one man exhibition in London in 2009 and is definitely one to watch.

3George Birrell is one of the best known of Scotland’s painters and renowned for architectural landscapes. Having studied at Glasgow School of Art in the late 60s, George has built a confident and colourful pallet. His stylised compositions pay homage to the architectural details of Fife, its Scots Baronial castles and the Crow’s feet gables of the East Neuk fishing villages. The seaside walls are detailed with contrasting circles of stone, and his work is dotted with lobster creels and other evidence of the fishing communities who live in his buildings. His paintings carry a great sense of light and dark and the careful observer of his gloaming scenes will notice details such as windows with lights switched on.

2Robert Kelsey, like Birrell and Jolomo, Kelsey studied at Glasgow School of Art in the mid 60s under some of its finest tutors and following a career in education has become a full time artist to international acclaim. Kelsey has travelled and painted the world but is best known for his paintings of Scotland where he is inspired by the land and seascapes of Scotland’s West Coast. His paintings frequently focus on the Islands and their long, empty beaches evoking a sense of peace and calm.

1Jolomo, John Lowrie Morrison, Scotland’s leading landscape painter, holds a very special place in the world of Scottish art and to me in particular.

He is one of the best selling artists in Britain. Commonly referred to by the nom de plume “Jolomo”, Morrison was born in Glasgow and studied at the Glasgow School of Art, before winning a travelling scholarship from the Royal Academy Schools.

Having moved with his family to Argyll where he has lived ever since, Jolomo has developed a distinctive expressive and impressionistic style, using azure blue as a ‘key’ colour.

His paintings rarely include people, but do include evidence of man in the landscape, an empty telephone box or abandoned ladder, giving a sense of their presence.

The vibrant colours of his paintings reflect the colours seen by Jolomo in the Scottish landscapes from his studios in Argyll and Mull.

He is renowned for painting Scotland’s West Coast, from light airy beaches to wee white crofts.

As a lay preacher in the Church of Scotland, it is unsurprising that his work has a very spiritual quality and that its subjects include Iona, its Abbey and various churches.

In the last two years John has risen to a challenge from Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond and painted one exhibition each year of the North East Coast of Scotland for his exhibitions at Bute House.

I first saw John’s work at the Strathearn Gallery, in my home town of Crieff, in the mid 90s.

John had given up his educational roles to work full time as an artist in 96 and it was one of his first exhibitions.

I was immediately transfixed by the passion and boldness in the paintings, the thick oil in unexpected colour.

I had not seen the Scottish landscape depicted with such confidence before.

Morrison works primarily in oil, occasionally in gouache.

He stopped dating his "Jolomo" signature in 2000, but earlier works carry the year of their painting in his signature.

He is a philanthropist who is well known for his donations to donations to various charities, particularly The Princess Royal Trust for Carers of which John and his wife Maureen are Patrons. Morrison is behind the Jolomo Scottish Landscape Painting Awards, Britains largest privately funded art prize of its kind which he set up to encourage painting of the Scottish landscape.

I have moved from being a collector of John's work to a dealer.

This transition has allowed me to watch other people's reactions to his work.

It is a powerful experience.

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