Retired duo’s displays show the many faces of amateur painting

Two local artists feature in the new exhibition at Da Gadderie in Shetland Museum and Archives.

Jim Tait and Bobby Robertson are certainly not new faces; we have seen their work many times before in numerous exhibitions in the old Shetland Museum gallery and other local venues.

All of Jim’s 27 paintings are of a similar size and range around the gallery set-up, flexible as it is and formed this time into two distinct areas, and my initial feeling is that the work looks cramped. There’s less than six inches between the frames and I would have been tempted to leave one or two out. However, the paintings, all oils, draw you in for a further look.

Blues dominate as Jim’s work contains mostly seascapes, usually to a set pattern with one or more boats featured. The classic Jim Tait theme, of which we see plenty of examples here, is of the lone boat – often a fishing boat – being pounded in heavy seas. There are plenty of variations on that theme, for example a destroyer, an oil support vessel, a NorthLink ferry, one of the Scandinavian full-rigged sailing ships and the old P&O vessels.

The latter is really a nostalgia trip. I remember drawing and paint­ing steam railway engines when I was young long after they had been replaced by diesel and it’s the same here – nostalgia for the old boats.

When Jim allows other colours into his work the effect is quite uplifting. The bright orange in the painting The Swan and the Lifeboat creates that clash of complementary colours.

What saves the work from accusations of painting the same painting over again each time is the handling of the sea. Painting represen­tations of particular seas is quite a skill and Jim does this again and again. Aberdeen Trawler, Head­way in Gale is a good example with each breaker capped with fluffy wisps of wind-blown surf.

These are paintings within the tradition of marine painting, aiming for technical correctness but within context. Jim refers to the influence of light and climate and you can see this in such a work as St Clair IV Entering Lerwick with its still water and grey clouds but a hint of sunlight coming in from the left.

There are also landscapes, less familiar but handled in the same way – thin layers of oil paint on board. This can flatten the paint texture and even dull its effects. It is perhaps fine for cloudy skies but as you see in the landscape of Whiteness it can lose a certain vitality.

My favourite is Fraserburgh Pair Trawler, Falcon with a sloping horizon just adding to the queasiness of a rough sea.

Bobby’s works are generally calm after all this oil painting. His watercolours are imbued with a feeling for the delicate colours of the Shetland landscape; peachy morning light, bright cobalt blue summer days, salmon pink winter skies and the brooding blue and grey stormy weather.

Bobby is keen to include mixtures of techniques within his watercolours such as pen and ink over pure watercolour and pencil delineating shapes and patterns. Areas of white paper are left representing smoke, waves, snow and cloud.

Where I think these paintings work best are in the slightly more dramatic themes. Fishing at the Ord is within a very limited colour range creating a feeling of mist, threatening rain, but sunlight somewhere above those dark, brooding cliffs. It also has a Turner-like scraped sea and just enough layering of tertiary colours without them turning to mud. The same can be said about Fugla and Lyra, Skerry, Papa Stour which has a hint of wind and rain approaching.

On the other hand in the calmer paintings time can almost stand still. Winter, Eswick is a landscape of soft seasonal colours, grey leading to a warm salmon pink glow.

I’m less convinced by some others. Scalloway from the Muckle Yard is strangely aseptic, calling perhaps for heavier shadows to lift the forms depicted within.

The Gate, Busta House is a geometric design with a linear quality further explored in Bobby’s stained glass window designs.

Both artists have clearly invested much in quality framing, although I’m not a fan of coloured mounts, and have put together an exhibition which displays the many facets of amateur painting. Although both are retired they clearly devote plenty of time to it. My only hope is that when I retire I still have the energy and skill available to put into creating as much work as these two artists have done, and continue to do.

Peter Davis


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