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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Ewen McAslan

The first ever Young Glasgow Group Exhibition, 1958 in The McLellan Galleries
(L-R) Carole Gibbons, Douglas Abercrombie, Anda Paterson, James Spence, Margery Clinton, Ian McCulloch, James Watt, James Morrison, Jack Knox (seated), Ewen McAslan, Alasdair Gray
Work by Ewen McAslan

A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay about the Glasgow Group for a publication to mark its 50th year. It's posted elsewhere on this blog, if you do a search.
My former art teacher, Jim Wylie, was the President of the Group at the time and he asked me to contribute. I was in the illustrious company of Alasdair Gray (a founding member) and the art historian and academic, Donald Morrison, son of fellow founding member, James Morrison, who also provided essays for the book.
The Glasgow Group were part of a phenomenon sweeping the art world at the time they formed as The Young Glasgow Group. They were indeed young, they were hungry and they chasing the avant garde in among the grey, dreich environs of Glasgow in the late 1950s.
At the time, I spent a fascinating morning with two of the keepers of the Glasgow Group flame, artists Jim Spence and Anda Paterson. What they don't know about this period of history in Scottish art is not worth knowing.
I listened fascinated as they talked about the characters involved, including the late Alan Fletcher, about whom Alasdair Gray talks about at length in his recent book, A Life in Pictures.
(Alan Fletcher is worthy of another blog posting if not a Hollywood movie - note to self: look into this.)
Jim Spence emailed me a couple of weeks ago to say an exhibition of work by another fellow founding founder of the Group, Ewen McAslan, who died in 2008, was being planned for the Hidden Lane Gallery in Glasgow's west end for mid-March.
I've since been emailing Ewen's widow Isobel and she sent me a treasure trove of a CD filled with 100 images of work by her late husband. I now can't wait to see the work in the flesh.
Last night Joe Mulholland, of the Hidden Lane Gallery (http://hiddenlanegallery.com/) called me to say the work was now hung - although the exhibition doesn't open til Wed Mar 16.Joe mentioned that Alasdair Gray has been a pivotal figure in bringing his old friend's work to the attention of the wider world. Hopefully this exhibition is the start of a process which will allow more people to see this beautifully observed work.
Below, is an affectionate and informative obituary which Anda Paterson & Jim Spence wrote about their friend and fellow artist when he died at the end of 2008.
Ewen McAslan's work speaks for itself. Stunning figurative work and beautiful landscapes with a depth to them which comes from finely observed lines and angles in nature.

The exhibition is at Hidden Lane Gallery, 1081 Argyle Street, Glasgow and will be opened by Alasdair Gray on the Wed 16 March at 5.30pm

Ewen McAslan DA. Born Glasgow 26th July 1936 and died Pittenweem 13th December 2008
By Jim Spence and Anda Paterson

Ewen trained at Glasgow School of Art under Donaldson, Squires and the Armours from 1953 to 1957, and studied under MacLauchlan Milne at Hospitalfield Art College in 1956.

However, Ewen’s work had more in common with the solitary figures of the Northern Romantic movement and the expressionism of Munch than that of the Post Impressionism of his teachers. After the Second World War came a new creative outburst in all the arts; the advent of abstract impressionism and action painting bringing a new awareness of the painter’s concern for the actual physical process as an instrument of expression - and Ewen responded to this. His theme was often that of the solitary figure expressing itself in loneliness and pathos, emphasising line and subjective distortion both in windblown silent woodlands or melancholy mountains, and in the haunted figure, consistently demonstrating his obsession with the inner rather than the external imagination.

Ewen was a founding member of the Glasgow Group and from 1958 exhibited regularly in their McLellan Galleries Exhibitions, at the 1959 Community House Exhibition, opened by Hugh McDairmid, and at their London AIA Exhibition, when the entire exhibition was lost in a railway siding, only to be rescued by Carol Gibbons and Alasdair Gray. At this period he also participated in a major Nuclear Disarmament Exhibition in the McLellan Galleries.

For the past several years he exhibited at the Pittenweem Arts Festival where there was recently an exhibition with The Bath Street Boys. This was a reunion with fellow students Jack Knox, Archie McIntosh and Ian McCulloch, who had shared a studio in Bath Street, Glasgow, all of whom went on to become significant artists in the Scottish art scene.

Ewen’s last exhibited work was a powerful study of Canadian mountains which he exhibited at the 50th Anniversary Exhibition of the Glasgow Group held in the Glasgow Concert Hall in 2008. At Pittenweem he found the skellies as interesting as the actual sea - because they were like mountain structures in miniature - and the seas and skies that he painted were full of storms and passion, a bit like himself.

Mountains were a recurring theme in Ewen’s work. His introduction to the Scottish mountains took place in 1959, when with Jim Spence, driving a dilapidated Bradford van, and joined by Ian McCulloch, they embarked on an epic journey on the one-track road to Arisaig. They managed to hit most of the cars on the road and most of the boulders above Loch Sheil. They were saved by Ewen’s fervent prayers. When they complained about the road to Sandy McKechnie at Morar he said, “It keeps the riff-raff away.” Sandy, as a child, had carried DY Cameron’s easel up the mountains for a ha’penny a day. His comment on the great artist was, “he was a crabbit old man.”

Ewen showed an expressive gouache of the Morar Mountains, which he sold (his first sale) at the 2nd Glasgow Group McLellan Galleries Exhibition. At his last showing, in Canada, he sold every piece in it.

Ewen’s other constant theme was his artist wife Isobel. From his student days and throughout a painting career of over fifty years Isobel was the motif of some of his finest work. Like Bonnard’s wife Isobel never grew old, and, as with Bonnard, this fountain of inspiration never dried up.

Ewen and Isobel met at Glasgow School of Art and studied together at Hospitalfield Art College. In 1967, with their three children, they left for Canada, living first in Winnipeg where Ewen was instrumental in writing up the Art Curriculum for Schools. They then went north to teach on a Cree reservation at God’s Narrows on God’s Lake in Northern Manitoba in the snow and ice, for a brief, but dramatic, time. Later they returned to the Prairies in Southern Manitoba where Ewen was courted by the New Democratic Party and asked to stand as candidate for the Riding they were living in. At the same time a new college was being opened in British Columbia and they were looking for faculty. So Ewen had a choice to make. He chose the world of art and education rather than the world of politics. He became a founding member of Douglas College, later a university college, where he started up the art department. Throughout his years there he was Chairman of the Fine Art Department, later Ombudsman, and finally President of the Faculty Association of Kwantlen College ( one half of Douglas College which had split because of its vast growth in 1981).

During all this time he was actively involved in his painting. After the spring thaw he was the first to head for the mountain roads to his beloved mountains which he painted with passion. He said he did not paint pictures of mountains - he painted pictures about mountains.

He took early retirement and returned to Scotland in 1994 to live in Pittenweem. Sadly his health deteriorated and he was never able to resume an active career in public exhibitions. Those of us who had the privilege of visiting his studio were impressed by the range and quality of his work, which he continued to produce despite declining health. Eloquent, elegant, and erudite, a charismatic teacher, his students continued to visit him from Canada. It is to be hoped that some day exhibitions can be arranged, so that a wider public can share the vision of an artist of originality and rare sensibility.

Our thoughts are with Isobel and his children Jonathan, Jane and Simon, all of whom continue in professions associated with literature and the arts.

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