Even at high school, when I was first beginning to feel like I was an artist, I remember being most excited by painters from Scotland – Glasgow in fact. Painters like Gaugin, Van Gogh and Egon Scheiele were obviously mesmerising but the idea that people like Ken Currie and Peter Howson were creating profound work in Glasgow and that they were not from the past but actually alive and working. Well, that was a bolt of lightning!
I went to Glasgow School of Art straight from school and was delighted to be in what felt like the hub of this a painting tradition. I loved to think that artists like Joan Eardley, MacBryde and Colquhoun, Peter Howson and Ken Currie had all been there before me, struggling and forging what painting in Scotland could be. I also discovered the German Expressionists when I was there ( Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckman etc) and saw how they had shown their turbulent society in brightly coloured, raw paintings.
I remember writing a dissertation (I even remember interviewing then Head of Painting Alexander Moffat for it) where I was desperate to try to understand what a peculiarly Scottish tradition of painting could be. What were its defining characteristics? Where had it came from?
I think I concluded that a kind of northern European angst, maybe from living in cold dark country, was central. (Think of the early paintings of fishermen by John Bellany).
But also there was a celebration of colour, a joie de vivre shared with the other Gaels of France. (Think of the Scottish Colourists).
I suppose it’s hard to pin down, especially in today’s interconnected world, but it’s something felt anyway.