Tom Shanks is widely acknowledged as one of the most impressive contemporary Scottish artists. He is known for his evocative watercolour paintings of the West Highlands which he has loved since childhood. It was at the age of seven that his parents first took him from his Glasgow home to the Isle of Skye. This visit had a profound effect upon him becoming his inspiration for a lifetime of paintings. Tom frequently travelled the West Coast of Scotland, when he was young by bicycle, and later, when he had a young family, by car. Always carrying with him easily transportable sketchbooks, pens and watercolours, Tom would sketch and paint every day. On leaving school, Tom Shanks became an apprentice carpet designer at Templeton’s carpet factory. Upon World War Two breaking out, as a Conscientious Objector, Tom was sent to work with the Forestry Commission at the Holy Loch, Argyll. He continued to draw and paint during this time and the exhibition features work dating from this period. As his interest and skill developed, when the war ended Shanks applied to Glasgow School of Art to attend evening classes and was encouraged to enrol for the fulltime diploma course. After graduating in 1950, he worked as a mural painter, stage designer, designer in the Edinburgh Weavers Dovecot studios and as a teacher of art but he has continued always to paint the Scottish landscape.
It was whilst at Glasgow School of Art that Tom met his wife, June. They married in 1953, lived for a short time in Kelvinside, before clubbing together with a couple of friends, also artists, to buy a house in Kilbarchan. ‘Rose Hill’ became their family home in which they brought up their children. June and Tom took their children on many a family holiday in their Renault car. An artist herself, June was also a keen gardener and the grounds of Rose Hill were spectacular.
The walls in Tom’s home were covered with books, paintings and an amazing array of objects, everyone telling a story, adorning any available surface.
Tom greatly admired the work of many artists, including that of Turner, Joan Eardley, John Piper, Samuel Palmer and Graham Sutherland. Tom also admires the work of illustrators such as EH Shepherd and Arthur Wrackham.
I have long admired Tom’s work. My parents own a piece and I have always appreciated the deceptively simple washes of watercolour which perfectly captured the long sweep of sandy beach, the turquoise water gently lapping the edges, the clouds scudding across a deep blue sky and the dark purple hills receding into the background. In 2007 I visited Tighnabruaich Gallery which, at that time was owned by Shona and Iain Dobbie. There happened to be a display of Tom’s work and so my husband, Neil, and I purchased a piece as a wedding gift to ourselves.
We took over Tighnabruaich Gallery in 2017, an ambition which we had held for many years. Imagine our excitement when Tom Shanks himself visited the gallery. A quiet, softly-spoken gentleman accompanied by his daughter, Tom spent a long while looking around the gallery, taking the time to consider the work of every artist, before introducing himself. Tom asked us if we would be interested in exhibiting his work. Without hesitation the answer was yes.
Buying our Tom Shanks painting gave us a real buzz of excitement and happiness. I love the piece and gain pleasure every time I look at it. So, it is safe to say I was somewhat star-struck when Tom visited the gallery. It is such a rare and unusual gift to meet an artist whose work you have long admired. Working with Tom for his solo exhibition in 2019 was one of the most exciting and rewarding chapters of our time at Tighnabruaich Gallery.