A private world of visual and visceral responses to the land and the sea and the way the elements bring shape, light and colour resonate throughout Chris’ immensely successful career as a painter. None more so than in this latest body of deeply biographical paintings, which revisit many of the places of our family’s childhood and Chris’ youth.
Six and half years separate my older brother Chris and me. Pretty much by the time I came along, Chris was already immersed in the histories and mythologies of the rural environment. As a young family in the mid 1970s, we moved to Tornaveen, a rural area of valleys, farms, forestry, cottages and streams, exposed to the northern elements in the heart of Aberdeenshire in North East Scotland. As two of four children of artistic parents, it did not take long for Tornaveen to become our creative playground. For me, it was the place where science fiction monsters would appear, but I think for Chris, it was the place where he interacted with his own created worlds, with their own borders, invented stories, maps and customs and I remember him creating many notes, diagrams and drawings of these. It all seemed so magical from the glimpses I was allowed as the younger brother into this private fascination.
Underpinned by these early experiences and obsessions, Chris began making paintings of the landscape as a serious concern in his early teens, and a mark of his intent can be evidenced by having worked accepted for both the annual exhibitions of Aberdeen Artists Society and Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) when he was still only 14.
However, Chris’ interests and early academic prowess lead him to study archeology and ancient history at the University of Edinburgh - to the quiet disapproval of our artist parents. Ultimately, academic study gave way to his life’s primary obsession: to paint landscapes. Chris took on offshore and onshore jobs in North Sea oil industries while he returned to exploring his skills and confidence as an artist, developing a romance and a visual response with the coastal areas in the west of Scotland - particularly around Loch Torridon.
Eventually Chris was accepted to study painting at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen in the early 1980s. While he was a student, I witnessed Chris’ resolve to follow his own path and make and develop his kind of paintings, despite the advent of the fashionable new figuration in the 1980s and the onslaught of conceptual art. Chris held his nerve and continued to develop and make ambitious landscape paintings, which seemed always about the alchemy of paint in response to the land and places he visits; an instinctive compulsion aligned to scientific organisation. During this time, I remember Chris finding great solace and empathy in the work of the Australian painter Arthur Boyd. Chris poured over a television documentary from 1986 on ITVs The South Bank Show which showed Boyd painting under a massive canopy on a beach in Australia, with dripping paint, instinctive mark-making and direct painterly responses. I can still feel this connection with Boyd in Chris current working practices.
Like many graduates, Chris’ immediate post art school career took some time to get going. Chris found himself with that age-old dilemma for artists for the need to support his family and pay for a studio and materials with not enough time or energy to paint and reflect. Relocating to Edinburgh, Chris again returned to working for town planners and landscape architects to support himself - all work which in some small way tapped into Chris’ relationship with the environment, but as far as he was concerned, were about as far away from what he wanted to do as they could be.
Chris continued to find time to make new paintings in the early 1990s showing and selling work and gradually gaining enough confidence to paint full-time. Demand for his paintings soon followed.
22 May - 7 June 2013
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