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Back of Keppoch

Back of Keppoch 1956

Georges Clark (1896–1990)

My father’s painting Back of Keppoch pictures a dilapidated cow shed next to Keppoch Beach just north of Arisaig, on Scotland’s beautiful west coast, where my family and I would spend our summer holidays. Having previously only seen a black and white photograph of the painting during my childhood, discovering the painting in full colour on Art UK was a revelation – bringing back memories of the sights, sounds and scents of my cherished childhood holidays.

The journey to Arisaig Bay was always a much-anticipated event. Given the go-ahead from my father, we would pack our little green van with camping and painting equipment and set off from Fife along the ‘Road to the Isles’. My excitement would build along the single track road, until eventually the wide vista of the Cullin Hills and Arisaig Bay revealed themselves. I remember now the smell of the sea and sound of the seagulls swooping as the little fishing boats chugged to the harbour.

Driving through the little village of Arisaig – translated as ‘the safe place’ in Scottish Gaelic – we would wind down the narrow road leading to the Back of Keppoch, a small settlement on the coast. Through the open gate to the hayfield, we would pitch our white army ridge tent on the spiky stubble amongst haystacks drying in the summer sun. The white sand of the bay and the sun dropping on the horizon signalled the lighting of the gas stove, and the last sounds I heard before falling asleep were those of the bubbling kettle and the soft, comforting voices of my parents.

The white sand and blue sea were immediately visible in the morning through the vista of the pinned back tent doors. My father would prepare to paint, wandering over to the beach in his black beret to make his preparatory sketches. We watched from a distance, penned back by my mother, as he elevated his easel and prepared his palette.

My father’s passion for painting perhaps stemmed from his experiences living in Paris as a boy, where he would wander around the cobbled streets behind the Sacré-Cœur, watching the city’s artists painting at their easels. Born to Scottish parents, he eventually returned to Scotland at the age of sixteen, where he worked as an engineering apprentice before enlisting in the Royal Scots as 2nd Lieutenant. Returning to civilian life in 1922 and pursuing his engineering career, it wasn’t until the age of 65 that he decided to study art at Edinburgh Art College in 1957.

Studiously replicating the techniques of the Old Masters, my father mixed his own paints and glazes, religiously recording the techniques to produce different colours in his many notebooks. An observer of nature, my father was devoted to painting en plein air until eventually his eyesight failed him. Retiring to the studio and adopting an abstract approach, he died aged 94 in 1990. My father’s struggles to be accepted as a painter perhaps reflected his out-of-vogue style, although his dream to be recognised did not diminish until his death.     

Arisaig remains my favourite place in the world. This painting is held in the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre and it is my hope that more of my father’s works will be shared.

Fiona Bowman, daughter of the artist Georges Clark (1896–1990)