James D Robertson
Born: 2 November, 1931, in Fife.
Died: 7 January, 2010, in Renfrewshire, aged 78.
WITH his shiny bald head, distinguished grey hair and white beard, James Robertson looked the epitome of an artist, or everyone's favourite uncle. His paintings showed an intense and brilliant use of colour and he captured Scottish landscapes with a beguiling honesty. Robertson loved painting the countryside round the Clyde and the west coast of Scotland: but his paintings were never conventional or straightforward.
He lived in Renfrewshire for more than 30 years and gloried in the change of colours and the light on the sea as the seasons changed, though he was attracted to the industrial landscapes of the Clyde as much as to the Scottish coastline.
Much of Robertson's output evokes a mood or reaction to the countryside in general rather than portraying any particular view or location. It is as if he wanted to challenge the viewer not to pinpoint his picture but to get involved with the intricacies of the landscape.
James Downie Robertson – always Jimmy – was born in Cowdenbeath one of twin boys, but the family moved to Glasgow at the start of the Second World War and he attended Hillhead High School. He then studied at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) under the redoubtable David Donaldson and Joan Eardley.
Graduating in 1953, Robertson spent some time in Spain but later accepted a teaching post at Keith Grammar School from 1957-58.
In 1959, he returned to the GSA as a part-time lecturer in the drawing and painting department. But his own paintings, especially watercolours, were becoming collectable and his first solo exhibition, in 1962, at the Douglas and Foulis Gallery in Edinburgh, proved a remarkable debut. In 1967 Robertson was appointed a lecturer in drawing and painting at Glasgow.
Robertson proved an excellent teacher: patient, encouraging and always keen to impart his own enthusiasm for painting. For 40 years he gave devoted service to the Glasgow School of Art and generations of students benefited from his diligent instruction. He was in demand as a visiting lecturer and spent time in that capacity in Cape Town, as well as at Aberdeen's Gray's School of Art and Pennsylvania University.
Robertson enjoyed being provocative – with students and colleagues alike – but he was invariably generous with his praise and graciously balanced in his comments on other people's work.
But gradually Robertson's own work became more widely seen and bought. His depiction of desolate island beaches, expansive windswept seascapes and wildlife proved hugely popular. His passion for the sea, its changing moods and colours, drove him to capture it with an energetic reality. Winter Tide shows the swirl of a menacing black wave about to break on the foreshore with the suggestion of red daubs to lighten the ferocity of the sea. First Light shows the early morning sun behind an ominous dark cloud within a seascape of yet more turbulent waters.
Not all his paintings were of the countryside. His pictures of Clydeside caught the days of industrial activity and his visits to the likes of Grangemouth encouraged him to paint gasometers in wonderfully vivid colours set against a gloomy night sky. His Winter Landscape depicts a freezing blue sky against a frozen, desolate tundra. The business of the former is contrasted with the simplicity of the latter. Both are compelling.
Robertson's paintings have been widely bought and are in prestigious collections such as the Bank of England, Robert Fleming, BP, United Distillers, Clydesdale Bank and MacRoberts (solicitors). Private collectors include Prince Philip and the Queen Mother. At the RGI exhibition three months ago in Glasgow his Evening Landscape was exhibited and last summer's exhibition in the Mackintosh Gallery at the GSA was a retrospective of his work.
He was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1974, becoming a full member in 1989. Two years ago Robertson, John Bellany and Sylvia Wishart painted oils for an exhibition there. The Royal Glasgow Institute elected him a member in 1980. He enjoyed the conviviality of the bar at the Glasgow Art Club and served as the club's president.
He retired in 1999 but painted to the end. In a recent lecture he provoked much discussion when he concluded his talk by simply saying: "There is no art in what you see. It is what you do with what you see that makes art."
After a brief first marriage, Robertson married Ursula Crawford. She died in 2009 and he is survived by her children.