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Alan Robb (1946-2020) was Head of Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee from 1983-2003 and had a huge impact on a generation of artists. In particular, a group of painters emerged from Dundee in the 1980s with a distinctive visual style that owed much to Alan's influence - he later termed them 'the Dundee Imagists'. This exhibition celebrates his legacy, exploring his own influences and showing work by some of the imagist painters he inspired.

19 artworks

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Alan_Robb_by_Bruce_Pert_2_jpg
© Bruce Pert. Photo credit: Bruce Pert

"If you teach in an art school and set high expectations for students and tutors, you are working in and contributing to a very dynamic atmosphere. The frustrations of management and accountability are easily offset by the deep satisfaction of working with emerging artists and helping them to realise their creative potential and talent. You also can occasionally witness and recognise a burst of originality, which is exhilarating, or help someone with modest ability to suddenly surprise themselves and grow in confidence as a result. You can also see your own ideas adopted and given back in a refreshing way. There is no doubt that you also give away a lot of ideas, which can reduce their value to you. But that is the territory." - Alan Robb


Alan Robb in his studio, Newport-on-Tay

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Clip Strip
© the artist's estate. Photo credit: Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture

Alan often returned to his paintings and reworked them. Clip Strip was painted in 1979, revised in 1980 for an exhibition in Ireland (where it won first prize) and revised again in 2011 for his retrospective show at The McManus, A Painted World (2012). He then presented it to the RSA as his diploma work, having been elected in 2011.

Clip Strip 1978–1980 & 2011
Alan Robb (1946–2020)
Acrylic on canvas
H 182.5 x W 162.2 cm
Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture

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Untitled
© the artist's estate. Photo credit: Art & Heritage Collections, Robert Gordon University

Alan was born in Glasgow but grew up in Aberdeen, where he studied at Gray's School of Art from 1964-69. Several of his student works were kept by the School, including this semi-abstract still life.

Untitled 1968
Alan Robb (1946–2020)
Oil on board
H 69.8 x W 45 cm
Art & Heritage Collections, Robert Gordon University

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In the Image of Man
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)

The Head of Drawing at Gray's School of Art throughout the 1960s was Robert Henderson Blyth, whose work would have a strong influence on Alan's future artistic style. He later remembered some of the other staff who taught him: "I was well directed by William Littlejohn, William Connon, Derrick Ashby, Colin Thoms and Frances Walker. Very little reference was made in our programme to 'ideas' but I wrote a dissertation on 'Dali versus Magritte'.

In the Image of Man 1947
Robert Henderson Blyth (1919–1970)
Oil on canvas
H 127 x W 101.6 cm
IWM (Imperial War Museums)

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Arbroath Boat Yard
© the artist's estate. Photo credit: ANGUSalive

Every summer the four Scottish art colleges sent their most promising students to the residential art school Hospitalfield on the outskirts of Arbroath. In 1968 Alan was one of those selected to go there, and was particularly influenced by Duncan of Jordanstone College tutor Jack Knox, who was the summer tutor that year. "It was during that time that I began to consider a more abstract approach to my painting. I continued to work on location, but with a more selective approach emphasising the structures of things, reducing the number of elements present and departing from local colour."

Arbroath Boat Yard 1968
Alan Robb (1946–2020)
Oil on board
H 95.6 x W 121.5 cm
ANGUSalive

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Light and Heavy
© Royal College of Art. Photo credit: Royal College of Art

In 1969, Alan became the first student from Gray’s to be accepted for the three-year postgraduate course at the Royal College of Art in London. He later recalled: “The Royal College in the late 60s was very exciting with a dynamic created by students from all over Britain, with several Americans and Australians to add to the fun. I was tutored by Ruskin Spear, Peter Blake, David Hockney, Patrick Proctor and Leonard Rosoman. I became friendly with Carel Weight, who was a near neighbour, and spent a lot of time in garden visits talking about our common interest in Stanley Spencer, Edward Burra and figurative painting between the wars in Europe and America.”

Light and Heavy 1972
Alan Robb (1946–2020)
Oil on canvas
H 121.5 x W 76.5 cm
Royal College of Art

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A Positive Step towards the Negative
© the artist's estate. Photo credit: Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)

In the 1970s Alan turned to the visual language of comics as a way of unifying material from different sources. “I had grown up with the Beano, the Dandy, the Topper and the Beezer [all published in Dundee] and loved the colour range, particularly when the newsprint had begun to yellow and the ink to fade. I was keen to learn the visual language of the comic artist and a change to water-based acrylic [inspired by Jack Knox] helped this move.” In this painting, the artist’s hand appears spraying ready-made images, “like Walt Disney landscapes flowing from an animated brush”.

A Positive Step towards the Negative 1973–1974
Alan Robb (1946–2020)
Acrylic on canvas
H 152 x W 182 cm
Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)

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One More Time
© the artist's estate. Photo credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

Geraldine Neeson wrote of these works: "Technical brilliance, a commendable indulgence in strong well controlled colour and excellent drawing are features of Alan Robb’s work. Machine structures and fragments of body parts are shown with great discipline of form and colour. He has a gift for presenting textures, metals, fabrics, plastics. He understands to the passion for speed in today’s pattern of life, a pattern lived on the surface, seeking distraction in the shape of sensation. Ephemeral and cruel but prevalent."

One More Time 1978
Alan Robb (1946–2020)
Acrylic on canvas
H 75.5 x W 70.5 cm
Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

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Country Dances (Symphonic Form)
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

On leaving the Royal College, Alan was appointed art master at Oundle School, Northamptonshire. In 1975 he moved to Crawford School of Art in Cork, becoming Head of Fine Art in 1980. He came to Dundee in 1983 as the first Head of Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, uniting the previously separate departments of Drawing & Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking. Several of his fellow staff (like Peter Collins) shared a similar visual style, which would have a significant influences on the students of the time.

Country Dances (Symphonic Form) 1982–1985
Peter Collins (b.1935)
Oil on board
H 119 x W 180 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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Venus Mourning Adonis
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Alan was greatly inspired by the discussion and debate he enjoyed with fellow staff in the school, including Arthur Watson, Euan McArthur, Ian Howard, Will Maclean, Gary Fisher and Ronald Forbes (whose work is shown here). In 1987, he was appointed Professor of Fine Art and in the 1990s worked on the College’s merger with the University of Dundee (which took place in 1994), adapting the School of Fine Art to the growing importance of research and the emergence of practice-based PhDs.

Venus Mourning Adonis 1999/2002
Ronald Forbes (b.1947)
Acrylic on linen
H 178 x W 213 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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Bingo Girl
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Alan encouraged his students to look at artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Edward Baird, Felice Casorati, Edward Burra and the magic realists. The result was a uniquely Dundonian response – brightly coloured, highly finished and grotesque or cartoon-like works which could seem sinister yet funny, realistic yet surreal. The work gave Duncan of Jordanstone an enviable reputation for its drawing and painting. Many students from the time have since gone on to national and international success, including Derrick Guild (whose work is not currently available on Art UK) and Sandy Guy, who later taught in both Dundee and Glasgow.

Bingo Girl 1984
Alexander Guy (b.1962)
Oil on canvas
H 139 x W 113 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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The Acrobat
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Graeme Todd was another highly acclaimed graduate from this period. Although his later work is very different in style from his bold student paintings, he still employs a multi-layered approach similar to Alan’s, using (in his words) “an additive process to build up images of landscape that are layered, contested and culturally dense”.

The Acrobat 1984
Graeme Todd (b.1962)
Oil on board
H 143 x W 132 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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Untitled
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Vince Rattray was a much-loved Dundee artist who died sadly young in 2000. The influence of Alan and his contemporaries is evident in this student work.

Untitled 1985
Vincent Rattray (1954–2000)
Oil on canvas
H 213 x W 153 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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… But Some Are More Equal than Others
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

This painting from Lars Stenberg’s Degree Show uses hyper-realism and symbolic imagery to create a dark and sinister scene. Lars now lives in Australia where he continues to exhibit widely.

… But Some Are More Equal than Others 1985
Lars Stenberg (b.1963)
Oil on board
H 244 x W 123 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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Peace Rules the Day where Reason Rules the Mind
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

This colourful painting takes its title from the second Persian Eclogue, written by the 18th century English poet, William Collins: Thrice happy they, the wise contented poor, From lust of wealth and dread of death secure. They tempt no deserts and no griefs they find; Peace rules the day, where reason rules the mind. Colin lived in Germany for many years but has now returned to Scotland and is based in Stonehaven. His collage-based paintings have been highly acclaimed.

Peace Rules the Day where Reason Rules the Mind 1986
Colin Brown (b.1962)
Oil on canvas
H 111 x W 151 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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On the Retiral of John McLeod, Senior Guardsman, Wick Railway Station
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Ian Charles Scott was another of Alan’s star students, creating a series of large-scale exaggerated portraits with symbolic details. He is now based in New York where he is a successful painter and teacher.

On the Retiral of John McLeod, Senior Guardsman, Wick Railway Station 1986
Ian Charles Scott (b.1957)
Oil on board
H 243 x W 122 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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The Last Order
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Neil Irons now lives and works in London. This large-scale painting shows the former Blue Mountains pub on the Hawkhill in Dundee and features various staff and students from the Art College including Chris Neill, Tommy Crooks, Grant Clifford and Sandy Hope.

The Last Order 1987
Neil Irons (b.1964)
Oil on canvas
H 183 x W 305 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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Ecco Homo
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Angus McEwan created a series of large-scale oil paintings for his Degree Show, but has since become highly praised for his watercolours. He also teaches art at Dundee & Angus College.

Ecco Homo c.1987
Angus Maywood McEwan (b.1963)
Oil on canvas
H 182 x W 182 cm
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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Lonely Beach
© the artist's estate. Photo credit: Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)

Alan’s fellow lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone, Euan McArthur, writes: “For Alan, attention to the surface of things enabled the painter to find their essence and reveal their depths.” Whatever the subject, “the same attentive eye and clarifying impulse shows itself.” This painting is from a series inspired by a 3D model made as a reference for landscape painting, but here presented as a still life object.

Lonely Beach 1995
Alan Robb (1946–2020)
Oil on linen
H 54 x W 64 cm
Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)

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Egum Baba Abaoula – The Soul in PURGATORY
© the artist's estate. Photo credit: Art & Heritage Collections, Robert Gordon University

Alan travelled to Brazil in the 1990s and developed a fascination for Afro-Brazilian folklore, particularly the symbols of religious fervour. “I wanted to explore the nature of religious statues, icons, figurines in assisting worship. I was also intrigued by the various levels of execution, from the crude or gaudy to the very highest of art forms.” Alan retired from teaching in 2007 but continued to paint from his studio in Newport-on-Tay. “I love the Tay estuary. I remember taking a visiting Italian Professor across the Tay Bridge and he exclaimed: ‘Alan, I love your grey’. Turner could do it justice I think, or Claude Lorraine.”

Egum Baba Abaoula – The Soul in PURGATORY 2008
Alan Robb (1946–2020)
Oil on linen
H 53 x W 39 cm
Art & Heritage Collections, Robert Gordon University