This exhibition features a selection of previously unseen pen, ink and watercolour landscapes by Tom Shanks RSW RGI PAI.
Tom Shanks is widely respected as one of the most talented Scottish landscape painters. He is known for his evocative watercolour paintings of the West Highlands which he 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 and this visit had a profound effect upon him becoming his inspiration for a lifetime of painting. 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.
Art was a passion for Tom. A creative person, he surrounded himself with books, works of art by fellow artists and many, many beautiful objects. Tom was a compulsive artist, drawing and painting every day. His children and grandchildren hold fond memories of him sketching onto their boiled eggs at breakfast and of receiving hand drawn Christmas cards each year. Tom simply had to paint, a necessity to him as much as eating, sleeping, breathing. Indeed,he continued to paint up until only a few weeks before he died in 2020.
“We used to go to the Highlands for family holidays and I have loved the quietness and grandeur of the area ever since, particularly when compared to the noise and bustle of living in Glasgow. The Highlands have been a constant source of inspiration. I like the contours and ruggedness of the mountainous scenery and the challenge of trying to explain it’s nature and mood through the act of drawing and painting.” TOM SHANKS
Tom’s choice of watercolour as a medium stemmed from two elements. One, watercolour was a more practical medium for transporting and using outside, requiring only paper, sketchbook and paints as opposed to canvas, easel and all the accoutrements for painting with oil. Secondly, watercolour lends itself perfectly to capturing the uniquelight, colour and weather which is particular to the west coast of Scotland.
“The delicacy, fluidity and transparency of watercolour makes it the best medium for interpreting ephemeral effects and nuances of light and colour in the landscape. Watercolour is an instantaneous, impulsive medium, that give you lots of interesting accidental effects as well as those that you have planned.” TOM SHANKS
It is possible to categorize Tom’s landscape paintings into groups. Some pieces demonstrate a gestural and dramatic approach. Utilising his skills in abstraction and design, Tom would experiment with bold use of ink and watercolour, creating works which possess a real sense of immediacy, evoking an atmosphere and sense of drama. After spending time with him, Tom gave me the impression that these were the pieces that he enjoyed the most.
In other landscape paintings it is possible to see the illustrative quality of Tom’s work. Tom clearly enjoyed experimenting with mark-making in pen, exploring how best to depict the changing textures and lines of the landscape through the seasons. Quite often these paintings will have a softer colour palette and will feature buildings and suggestions of habitation.
A clear and distinct group of Tom’s landscapes were his beautiful depictions of blue summer skies, sandy bays and turquoise waters. These paintings would use a soft palette of pinks, purples, blues and yellow and, quite often, would consist of only simple colour washes with minimal pen drawing.
Just as Tom produced landscapes which are soft and gentle, Tom also enjoyed creating dark and moody pieces. In these works Tom utilises a much stronger palette, experimenting with huge washes of inky and dusky colour and only the merest suggestions of pen line and mark-making.
“I’m not necessarily after complete accuracy, although specific mountain ranges have to be recognisable. I think people are more interested in a good painting, one that expresses a strong sense of place and atmosphere rather than an accurate likeness. You have to be inspired so that you can paint with feeling as well as observation. Colour and composition are obviously important aspects to consider but the principal aim must always be to convey a mood and sense of being there, surrounded by the stillness and beauty of the landscape.” TOM SHANKS
Tom was gentle and kind man, quiet, thoughtful and with a glint in his eye. Visiting and talking to him was always a privilege and a huge pleasure although somewhat nerve-wracking when he put me on the spot and asked my opinion on recent paintings. Tom was unassuming about his work, quick to critique and dismiss any piece he felt was unsuccessful. It is not uncommon to find paintings on the back of paintings or lines marked onto the surface indicating areas to be cut, areas to be kept. Constantly challenging himself, developing his practise, pushing himself creatively – I feel that it is this which makes his work so awe-inspiring and breath-taking.Tom created work not because he had to meet deadlines and sell, but because he was driven and held a joy in what he did. Tom’s work, with his deceptively simple penmarks and colour washes, demonstrate such skill, perfectly capturing the essence and atmosphere of his subject matter.
I was lucky enough to meet Tom and spend time with him in the last few years of his life. I feel privileged to have known him and to have become a custodian of his portfolio of work.
To view all the work in the exhibition follow this link.