Monday, 25 February 2013

Favourite Paintings - William Gillies

With the annual RSW show about to open this week, my mind turned to favourite watercolour paintings.

It has to be Scottish painter William Gillies, and his lovely loose, effortless, unassuming handling of the medium.  How gorgeous is this?

William Gillies, Skye Hills from near Morar (Watercolour on paper, 1931)

This is a view of the distinctive Cuillin Hills in Skye from the beach near Morar - somewhere I've painted many times.  Using a restricted palette of greens and blues, here's a patchwork of loose, big-brushed strokes, giving the sense of swiftly-changing light and shade.  It's an emotional response to the scene, which gives you a real sense of place and of being there on the spot.

Here's the man himself.

 William Gillies, Self portrait (Oil on canvas, 1940)

Gillies travelled round the Scottish Highland on painting trips in the 1930s, parking at the side of the road in his trusty little car to record scenes, or pitching his tent as a temporary studio.  Painting quickly, pinning his sheets of paper to a board (you can see the holes made by the drawing pins in the corners of the paper), he could complete quite a few in a day.  Here he is in a joky photograph showing off his collection of on-the-spot work.

 Photograph "The Calidon Show", Durisdeer, September 1933

I guess I like that combination of expressiveness, an emotional attachment to the landscape, an authentic voice recording the scene, but also a voice that it's very understated and quiet.  These aren't paintings that shout.  

They're often quite abstract, with strange colour combinations and quirky, almost child-like elements.  This one, for example, pushes pattern-making to its limits.  It's only after a while that you can make out the shapes of the houses.

William Gillies, Temple (Watercolour on paper, 1958)

Here's another fine example, where you don't immediately see the three very simplified figures in the landscape.
 William Gillies, In Ardnamurchan (Watercolour and gouacheon paper, 1936)

His sister Emma had died the year before this painting, and Gillies said of it,  "There is a fine threat in the landscape."  With family members featuring in this painting, there's every possibility that he saw his own frame of mind reflected in the landscape.  His paintings are of real places and real events, but they're also externalisations of the internal landscape.

Gillies had helped arrange a major Munch exhibition in Edinburgh in 1931 (along with his friend William MacTaggart), and had in turn been much influenced by the moody Expressionism of the Scandinavian artist.  I'm sure you all know The Scream, but here's one of Mr Munch's landscapes.

Edvard Munch, The Red House (Oil on wood, 1930)
Gillies himself then travelled to Oslo in 1932.  Scandinavian painting and Scottish painting have much in common, with their love of colour, abstract elements and emotional intensity.

Anyway, if anyone ever wants to buy me a present, then a little Gillies watercolour or drawing will do very nicely, thank you!

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