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Issue 99 - Artist in Residence

Scotland Magazine Issue 99
June 2018


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Artist in Residence

Roddy Martine talks to Daniel M. Fairbairn, whose latest commissioned paintings are on show at Hatton Hill House, part of the Glen Moray Distillery


Working for 15 years as a wireline supervisor in the North Sea oil industry may seem like an unlikely background for a newly successful landscape artist, but Daniel Fairbairn has been painting in acrylics since he was just nine years old. Born in Gibralter, his father was a coast guard and, as a result, his family travelled around extensively - from Rosyth to Stornoway, from Oban to Peterhead and latterly to Urquhart, not far from where he now finds himself.

Moving from school to school inevitably had an effect upon him but, by growing up on both the east and west coasts of Scotland, he says his senses were captivated early on by the dramatic and changing colours he saw where the land meets the sea. He took Higher Art at school and attended a foundation art course in Elgin but, having held down a holiday job as a kitchen porter at the age of 13, he went on to train as a chef in Aberdeen. That was until the lure of a well-paid job in the North Sea oil business grabbed him.

All was well and he was enjoying the work until 2016, when the downturn in the oil industry arrived. Daniel was made redundant. With his wife Christine and two young sons, Logan (11) and Callan (4), to support, this came as both a shock and a challenge. While applying for future employment, however, he turned to his paint box for help.

"I was still looking for work but I had to do something rapidly to bring in some money," he says. "The problem was that local businesses were, for the most part, reluctant to take on offshore workers because they were convinced that if and when the upturn comes, we'd all want to return to the industry."

"Fortunately, painting was always my hobby," he explains. "My Granny taught me about drawing skills when I was a kid and she showed me the different techniques to build up my confidence."

On the side, Daniel began by selling handprinted t-shirts. He painted murals in a local record shop and bar. "Somebody even had a tattoo designed by me," he says with a laugh. Now working from his family home at Portgordon, in Morayshire, Daniel could hardly be better placed for observing the changes in light, the big skies and dramatic seascapes of the Moray Firth.

"I'd also discovered the work of the Fife-based artist Dominique Cameron, who introduces charcoal to her work - very immediate and intuitive," he says. "I experimented and began to love the way that paint interacts with charcoal. So, I thought I'd have a go and try to make it work commercially."

In the meantime, he admits to being extremely fortunate in having found a job as a part-time carer for two adults, which allows him to paint at the same time.

Daniel's first serious solo show was held during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival in 2017, at the art gallery of the Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown, which is close to his home between Elgin and Inverness.

Glenfiddich, owned by William Grant & Sons, has an impressive sponsorship record when it comes to supporting the arts but then so has the Scotch whisky industry in general. On Speyside, there is no shortage of distillery visitors and potential purchasers of art. Cannily, Daniel also began to diversify and is now successfully producing cards, posters and prints of his work.

He genuinely admits to there being no narrative as such for his first Glenfiddich exhibition. However, finding himself regularly driving past Buckie Harbour, his attention was caught by the sun rising behind some old warehouse buildings and a derelict shipyard.

"Somehow it was very personal and resonant of my own situation," he says thoughtfully. "There were these abandoned sheds being transformed. It was that sense of a past-purpose being overtaken by something new and better."

Daniel therefore approached Regency Oils, a leading fuel distribution company, which owned a retail unit on the harbour that was ideal for a small exhibition. Thankfully, the exhibition was well received and, to Daniel's delight, it sold out. Soon after, David Ross, who organises Moray Firth Tours, introduced him to Fay, the wife of Graham Coull, Master Distiller at Glen Moray Distillery in Elgin. Glen Moray, which has been owned by French drinks company La Martiniquaise since 2008, commissioned Daniel to produce a set of three paintings for the distillery's tasting room in the recently refurbished Hatton Hill House.

Since then, the commissions have been flowing in, including a further work for Glen Moray and three portraits. "From the distillery's point of view, he really embraces what Glen Moray is all about," explains Graham. "He is passionate about everything he does and you can really see this in his paintings." 


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