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Issue 86 - Artist in Residence - Hugh Buchanan

Scotland Magazine Issue 86
April 2016


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Artist in Residence - Hugh Buchanan

Roddy Martine visits Hugh Buchanan at his East Lothian studio

You close doors in your career,” began Hugh Buchanan when we met up at his East Lothian studio. “Having started off in architecture and graphic design at Edinburgh College of Art in 1976, I didn't dare to tell my parents that what I really wanted to be was an artist.” A casual glance at some of the images in his portfolio makes you realise that Hugh might indeed have become an outstanding architect; his sensitivity to space and light shines through. In everything he creates, Hugh sets out to capture the structure and lines of interiors, objects and materials caught in the moment. Ionic columns and sculptural features are subtly exposed to the imagination, as they should be. He loves the many shades of grey and silver, layers of autumnal pigment, terracotta, green, yellow and blue. He loves to evoke antique surfaces, simulating textiles, parchment and paper, capturing the dust from shadows of the distant past.

Hugh Buchanan's post-graduate diploma was awarded with ‘distinction’, but his defining moment came in 1981 when the City of Edinburgh chose one of his pictures as a wedding present for the Prince and Princess of Wales – an outstanding achievement. There followed commissions from the National Trust for Scotland and, in 1987, the Prince of Wales invited him to paint a series of interiors at Balmoral. This was followed up with a further sequence at the Prince's English home at Highgrove. In 1988, Hugh was commissioned to paint four interiors of the Palace of Westminster by the House of Commons itself and, in 2002, he was asked by the House of Lords to paint the lying in state of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother at the Palace of Westminster.

With such exalted patronage it is hardly surprising to discover that his work is now to be found extensively in international collections. In 1991, five of his paintings were featured at the Lincoln Center in New York, and he has participated in exhibitions held at the National Museum and Gallery in Cardiff, Petworth House in West Sussex, and the National Theatre in London.

There also followed two limited edition illustrated publications with accompanying texts by Peter Davidson: The Eloquence of Shadows (1994) and Winter Light (2010). More recently, he has exhibited compositions relating to the John Murray Archive for the National Library of Scotland. Much in demand, Hugh is currently working on two challenging projects. The first is a celebration of the life of Edinburgh-born impresario Richard Demarco and his contemporaries: the German performance artist Joseph Beuys; the Romanian sculptor Paul Neagu; the Polish assemblage artist Tadeusz Kantor; and the Scottish poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. It is to be shown at the Pompidou Centre in Paris later this year.

The second undertaking, with Guy Peploe, owner of The Scottish Gallery, and at the suggestion of Dr Iain Brown, is a celebration of 250 years of the New Town of Edinburgh. A romantic at heart (in the oldest and best sense of the word), Hugh admits that “it is impossible to spend time working in Edinburgh without being influenced by the buildings.” But don't expect anything predictable from him, more “a modern way of looking at buildings, perhaps some of them reflected in glass or car bonnets,” he suggests.