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Tom Shanks RSW RGI PAI

Self-Portrait, 1946

Born in 1921, Dennistoun, Glasgow, to parents Annie and Thomas Andrew Shanks, Tom had one older brother, Robert.  Tom’s father worked in the office of the family clay works firm.  Away from school Tom spent his childhood travelling the west coast of Scotland with his family and visiting exhibitions and collections of art at venues such as Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the McLellan Gallery. Such experiences shaped the interests of a young Tom, influencing his future life.

Sadly Thomas Andrew died in 1929 and so Tom was brought up by Annie and her two sisters.  After leaving school at the age of 14 Tom’s mother helped him to find work at Templeton Carpet Factory.  Although he started as an office boy, Tom was quick to progress to apprentice designer. At that time Templeton Carpet Factory employed many artists and hosted exhibitions of their work.  It was here that Tom exhibited and sold his first painting, ‘Grey Skies, Firth of Clyde’.

Upon World War Two breaking out in 1939, Tom registered his status as a Conscientious Objector and was posted to work with the Forestry Commission at Benmore, Argyll.  Tom’s father had also been a Conscientious Objector during the First World War and had been imprisoned for his beliefs.  Tom’s brother, Robert, was an Ambulance Driver.   During his time with the Forestry Commission Tom continued to draw and paint.  

As Tom’s interest and skills as an artist developed, when the war ended he applied to Glasgow School of Art (GSA) to attend night classes.   At that time Harry Barnes, Deputy Director of GSA, was the Head of the Night School.  Barnes was so enthralled and enthused upon seeing the quality of Tom’s work that he actively encouraged Tom to pursue a place on the full time Diploma course.  Barnes facilitated the procurement of funding to ensure that this was a realistic possibility as well as securing a place for Tom to start immediately.  

“Harry Barnes looked at my work and asked to see more. He said he’d never seen anything like it.  ‘You’ll have to get a grant and go to day school.  It’s silly  going to evening school.’ It was all arranged and I started.  I was so elated!”  TOM SHANKS

Tom flourished at Art School, winning prizes and awards. In 1950 he graduated with a Diploma in Art and won the prestigious Bellahouston Travelling Scholarship. Over a period of three months  he travelled to London and through Belgium, France and Italy.  Tom kept a detailed and fascinating diary during this time and it is clear how influential the experience was on his practise and beliefs. One of Tom’s favourite paintings was ‘Hunters in the Snow’ by Pieter Bruegel and so his visit to Belgium in particular must have been awe inspiring.

Returning to Scotland, Tom attempted to “…rid myself of any airy-fairy notions and get a job”. Although Tom always painted throughout his adult life, it wasn’t until he retired in 1980 that he began to paint full time.  Until that point he worked in several different jobs.  As well as providing illustrations for Scottish Field Magazine, Tom taught evening classes at GSA, was a mural painter at various Theatres and he also worked at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh where he designed and made tiles.  Tom also taught at Special Educational Needs Schools before attending Jordanhill Teacher Training College where he studied to become an Art Teacher in mainstream Secondary Schools.

In 1953 Tom married his wife June, whom he had met at GSA. After living for a short while in Kelvinside, they clubbed together with their friends, Bill and Cynthia Birnie, also artists, to buy a large house in Kilbarchan.  ‘Rose Hill’ became their family home where they brought up their two daughters.  It held many happy memories for Tom and his family.    

Tom exhibited in many exhibitions, both mixed and solo, throughout his lifetime.  In 1957 he was elected to the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour, in 1983 the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and in 1996 The Paisley Art Institute.

Throughout the years Tom continued to make regular visits to Colintraive, Glendaruel and Tighnabruaich.  I am certain that it was his time exploring the area on his bicycle and by steamer that cemented his love for Cowal and the Kyles of Bute.  I count myself as incredibly lucky to have met Tom during one of his visits and it somehow feels apt that his remaining portfolio of incredible work resides here in the Gallery.