Yell-based artist’s bold move with solo show

I am invited to visit Rob Colclough at home as he prepares for his show of paintings at The Old Haa in Burravoe, which is now showing until 7th June.

Here I am surrounded by land­scapes on canvas, board and paper, in sketchbooks and portfolios, in a house surrounded by similar beguiling landscapes.

Rob tells me the precise location of each scene, and about how he paints in the doorway of his shed to capture the view sheltered from the force of the weather. He also tells me of his eagerness to paint and his constant drive to learn new ways of expressing his fascination for the shapes and patterns of this environment. I sense that on occa­sion his creativity goes beyond his control and he is led forcibly by his addiction to the action of painting.

Rob Colclough is a self-taught painter. He had been painting watercolours for years and started to experiment with acrylic before his move to Shetland in 2006. The progression of his style is represented in the work exhibited here from the last three years – from feathered, whirling vistas of maroon in Sunrise II (2007) to the brooding greys and ochres of Wild Skies (2008) that have real depth and expression.

In his most recent works – Breaking Light and Breaking Wave (2008) there is a hint of the modernist aesthetic of Gerhart Richter, as poured and bleeding pigment creates a more abstract, ethereal and seductive feel to the work. The more he paints the deeper he seems to delve into his core.

Rob is not afraid of a challenge – whether it is house renovation, crofting, self-sufficiency or experi­menting with paint. He throws caution to the wind and approaches each with a confidence suggesting he can turn his hand to anything.

He talks of painting with whatever he can lay his hands on – in the past it has been mud, now it is oils, watercolour, acrylic or silk paint mixed with thinners, drying media, lighter fluid or surgical spirit. He has been inspired by the work of Rothko and Pollock in their disregard for the con­ventions of painting technique and he applies this to his observations of the Shetland landscape.

Of his works on paper repre­sented here – an extensive array of sketches and watercolours – many are fresh, fast, and value for money; they would look beautiful mounted up in their own white space. His sketchbook accompanies him on the croft and is used to capture the simplest of shapes and lines in a given moment – diagram­matic drawings labeled with the colours of scudding clouds over ominous water and annotated with notes on wind direction and its effects.

Despite the passion in his work these paintings have a simplicity to them – which does not belittle the works or the effort that has gone into them. It is born out of a basic passion for what lies outside the door and a blustery and frenetic urge to translate that into two dimensions.

Rob owes much to the con­fidence he has gained from courses with Paul Bloomer and Roxane Permar at Shetland College. There are moments that I wonder if he would benefit from a sustained bout of formal art training – to pummel him in colour theory and composition for example and give him something concrete to rebel against. But in the next moment I feel refreshed by the naivety that these works have, reflecting the raw passion with which he paints.

The process from sketchbook to finished canvas is clear and tangible throughout the exhibition, as is the maturing of his style over the last few years. He is developing quickly in confidence and expres­sion, and it is a bold and com­mendable move to stage a solo show in the very landscape which he depicts.

Jane Matthews


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