When I started thinking about curating an exhibition to celebrate the Fife Regatta Tom was very much a natural choice. Thankfully he is never one to shy away from a challenge and has produced two new works. The first, in Tom’s trademark pen, ink and watercolour, depicts a rarer view of the Kyles of Bute than we are possibly used to, overlooking the Burnt Isles, taken from a vantage point on the old coastal road in Colintraive.
The Burnt Isles are a clutch of small islets marking the transition between the East and West Kyles. Individually they are known by their Gaelic names. From largest to smallest they are Eilean Mor (Large Island), Eilean Fraoich (Heather Island) and Eilean Buidhe (Yellow Island). The Islands must be navigated to pass between the two Kyles and Loch Riddon, the principal route being known as the ‘narrows’. They are a wonderful hive of activity for wildlife such as seals and seabirds.
Tom has captured this view on a blustery and bright day, perfect for sailing, with vivid blue water and the highly inked hills of Bute and Tighnabruaich. Look carefully and you will spot the suggestion of yachts navigating through the Isles and down the West Kyle.
In Tom’s second piece he offers his perspective of another iconic view of Argyll’s Secret Coast. Compare his piece with that of Deb Wing who,in her piece Dreams of Tighnabruaich, has also shared with us her take on this view. In Arran in the Distance Tom places us above Tighnabruaich, looking over Bute, across to Carry and Ardlamont Point, and the brooding, dark mountains of Arran beyond. This work demonstrates Tom’s love of fine pen and ink work. Clever use of line to suggest clouds in the sky give way to dark and solid areas of ink, illustrating the dramatic profile of Arran. More tightly packed, dense pen drawing is used to depict Carry and Bute. Tom has then swept loose washes of watercolour across the paper, from the varying blues of water and sky, to the purples, ochres and burnt umbers of heather and bracken.
Tom Shanks is widely acknowledged as one of the most impressive contemporary Scottish artists. Tom is very well 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 full time 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 are covered with books, paintings and an amazing array of objects, everyone telling a story, adorning any available surface.
Tom greatly admires 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.
Tom is now 99 years old. He continues to draw and paint every single day.
I love and greatly admire both Tom and his work. It has been my very great pleasure, and one of the highlights of my time at the gallery, getting to know Tom over the last two years.