Obituary Hamish MacDonald

September 22 2008
The Herald
Hamish MacDonald
Born January 29 1935;
Died September 13 2008.
HAMISH MacDonald, who has died aged 73, was one of Scotland's most successful contemporary artists, known and loved for his vivid, fluid landscapes of Scotland, a style inspired by the Scottish Colourists.
MacDonald embarked on a new phase in his artistic career after being diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer last October, when he began doing figurative sketches of patients having chemotherapy at the Beatson Oncology Centre in Glasgow. MacDonald sketched his fellow patients in crayon while having palliative treatment there himself. A chance conversation with the chancellor of Glasgow University, Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, led to an invitation to exhibit the works in the atrium of the Wolfson Medical Centre Building, where they can still be seen.
This and two other exhibitions during his last year crowned a 40-year career in which MacDonald overcame setbacks to become a much sought-after painter whose works sold out almost as soon as they left the easel. His work on the Beatson collection exemplified a recurring motif in MacDonald's life: finding hope and inspiration at times of adversity.

A gentle, determined character and a warm-hearted family man whose children and grandchildren were a great source of pride to him, MacDonald had not only a passion for art, but a lifelong love of jazz music and sport, particularly football which he initially pursued as a career.
Hamish MacDonald (baptised James) was born in St Vincent Street, Glasgow, the son of crofters from Morar. As a young boy, he overcame the serious bone disease osteomyelitis, an illness which often proved fatal. He started painting aged seven and his earliest memory was of a picture of his being displayed at school.

Until the age of eight, he lived in the Highlands before the family moved permanently to the south side of Glasgow, where his parents ran a grocery shop. MacDonald attended Holyrood secondary school, where he discovered a love of football. He played in goal for Pollok Juniors and for Scotland's youth internationals, but after giving up his hopes of a professional career, devoted his full attention to art.

MacDonald enrolled at Glasgow School of Art, but was thrown out after a three-month probationary period. It was a pivotal moment: refusing to give in to this setback, he worked hard to be readmitted. It was during this period that his work was included in a Royal Scottish Academy show in Edinburgh, the first of many occasions. He went back to Glasgow School of Art in 1963, graduating in 1967. He held his first exhibition at the Cosmo (now the Glasgow Film Theatre) while still at college and a second at the Citizens' Theatre in 1967.

MacDonald met Nadia Rossi at an art school dance and they were married in 1966 at St Columbus Church. To support his family, MacDonald taught art for 25 years, becoming head of art at St Patrick's High School, Coatbridge. He would teach during the day and paint at night in his two home studios. The MacDonald household is remembered by his children as being "all about music, art and sport". A Sinatra man, MacDonald liked nothing more than to take the microphone at a wedding.

He continued to play football into his 40s and was also a keen bowler, tennis player and golfer.

At art school, he produced Pop Art-style collages of which he remained very proud. However, it was landscapes, mainly of Scotland but also of the places he visited on his extensive travels, including Italy and Marrakech, for which he became best known. He was inspired by Peploe, Cadell and particularly Joan Eardley. He held numerous exhibitions, including a number at the Lemon Street Gallery in Cornwall run by his daughter, Louise Jones. His works can be found in many major collections, including The Duke of Edinburgh, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Paisley Art Gallery. His awards include National Prizewinner Laing Competition (1989) and RGI Royal College of Physicians Award (1993). His last painting, The Procession of the Mysteries of the Dead, Procida, was completed last Tuesday.

MacDonald, who died last Saturday, is survived by his wife Nadia, his four children, Raymond, Louise, Martin and Nicky, and his grandchildren Marcello, Maria and Eva.

The Scotsman
Hamish MacDonald

Published Date: 22 September 2008
Landscape artist
Born: 29 January, 1935, in Glasgow.
Died: 13 September, 2008, in Glasgow, aged 73.

HAMISH MacDonald pain-ted the coasts of the west of Scotland with a vivid clarity and also produced delightful canal scenes in  Venice and seascapes in Cornwall. Much of his work was inspired by the Scottish Colourist movement, but MacDonald preserved an individuality which made him such an interesting artist. He painted landscapes and abstracts with equal style, and throughout most of his career he succeeded in capturing dramatic scenes with a keen sense of reality: Red Farm Field positively bursts on to the canvas with brilliant red while Evening Fields at Aberfeldy has a more forbidding style, as if a storm is about to engulf the hills. One of his favourite areas was the Isle of Skye and Poppy Field captures a typical Skye view with a striking green field punctuated by vibrant red poppies blowing in the wind.

This ability to encompass several styles was manifested right to the end of MacDonald's career. A year ago, he was diagnosed suffering from pancreatic cancer and as if to demonstrate his determination, MacDonald sketched his fellow patients at the Beatson Oncology Centre in Glasgow. The Chancellor of Glasgow University, Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, saw the crayon drawings and organised an exhibition at the Wolfson Medical Centre, where they remain as a fitting tribute.

Hamish MacDonald was born into a crofting family originally from Morar, and despite a serious bone illness as a child he displayed at school, Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow, a talent as an artist and for football. His parents ran a grocery business, but holidays were spent in the Highlands – a region that was to remain dear to MacDonald – both as an artist and as a visitor – all his life.

In 1955, he went to study at Glasgow School of Art, but did not last the short trial period he was put on. With typical tenacity, he exhibited his paintings where he could and had one accepted by the Royal Scottish Academy. The Glasgow School reconsidered their decision and in 1963 they readmitted MacDonald and he graduated in 1967.

MacDonald taught art at Jordanhill College, Motherwell Technical College and then at Bell College of Technology before in 1974 becoming head of art at St Patrick's High School, Coatbridge. There he encouraged those with, and those without, an interest in art in equal measure. He was always keen to let pupils express themselves and through that develop an interest in art. MacDonald also encouraged children with learning difficulties and gave special classes.

In 1991, he retired from teaching and this allowed him to concentrate on his painting. The Scottish Colourists – especially Joan Eardley – had influenced his vivid approach all his life and from the late 1990s MacDonald was acknowledged as one of the most important painters in Scotland. He had several solo exhibitions throughout Scotland and been bought by important private individuals and public institutions.

MacDonald's first exhibition was at the Citizens Theatre in 1964 and thereafter his work has been seen at the Torrance Gallery (1985), the Kingfisher Gallery (1987) – both in Edinburgh – the Atholl Gallery, Dunkeld (1987) and the Riverside Gallery in Stonehaven (1988). He has regularly shown at the Lemon Street Gallery in Cornwall which is run by his daughter, Louise Jones.

MacDonald's paintings have been bought by the Queen and Prince Phillip, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Jack McConnell, and can be seen at both the Kelvingrove and Paisley art galleries.   There was a steely determination in this genial and kindly man that helped him combat adversity. His paintings show a joy of colour and life that is totally celebratory: Stac Polaidh captures the glory of the peak in a commanding style while Autumn Hillside in Forfar is a more pastoral and delicate work.

The treatment for cancer and the drawings of patients, nurses and doctors at Beatson Oncology Centre marked another tragic but decisive period in his career. The 36 pictures that are now on show there are a touching insight into the every day workings of a chemotherapy unit and reflect Macdonald's belief that art can comfort the seriously ill.  In an interview, MacDonald described the drawings as therapeutic. "I can't put off making decisions" he said. "So there's an urgency, a drive and a freedom to the work which I find good."

His daughter remembered her father as "inspirational". She learnt much of her love of painting from her father, "he would talk you through pictures and suggest what you should look at. When I started my gallery Dad was hugely supportive: he had very good artistic judgement. But he was always high spirited, lots of fun and a lover of music; a keen tennis player, golfer, loved bowls and would sing any song by Sinatra anywhere."

In 1966, MacDonald married Nadia Rossi. She survives him along with their four children.



Herald April 30th 2008

The art of drawing good from bad 

On a sun-dappled April morning, the light floods in though the windows of Hamish MacDonald's sandstone home near Glasgow, illuminating the wall of art in the lounge. Fishing boats, landscapes and still lifes fill the space, each painted by the man himself on his extensive travels around Scotland, England and further afield. Inspired by the Scottish Colourists, Joan Eardley and Sir William George Gillies, this vibrant, celebratory style has made Hamish MacDonald into one of Scotland's most successful contemporary artists, with collectors of his work including the Duke of Edinburgh.

But while these may be what MacDonald is best known for, at the age of 73, his 40-year artistic journey has just taken a turn down an interesting new path. No-one has been more surprised, or enthused, by this than MacDonald himself - particularly as the catalyst was incurable pancreatic cancer.

Since being diagnosed last October after suffering stomach pains and jaundice, MacDonald has been attending the Beatson Oncology Centre in Glasgow for regular palliative chemotherapy. Hooked up to a drip for 90 minutes every week, he has taken out his sketchpad and drawn those he sees around him - other patients, visitors, nurses, doctors. He has even produced portraits of a vital-signs monitor and "cold cap" designed to help prevent hair loss.

A chance conversation with Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, the Chancellor of Glasgow University, led to an invitation to display the work. MacDonald has now made a permanent loan of 36 drawings to the university, where they can be seen in the atrium of the Wolfson Medical School Building. They provide a unique, touching and at times amusing insight into life in a chemotherapy room.

Now Hamish and his wife Nadia are hoping the exhibition will benefit The Herald Friends of Maggie's campaig. The therapeutic and inspirational value of art and sculpture has long been recognised by Maggie's Centres.

Certainly, MacDonald feels his art has helped his treatment. He steps around the door of his lounge today wearing his blue painter's smock, having come straight from working on a still life of yellow flowers. "I hope Maggie's will gain from this," he says. "I've got a very good quality of life, I'm working hard and I'm very pleased with what I'm producing.

"All fear is gone - it's not a cas of I'm here today, gone tomorrow, it's a case of I'm here today, gone today, so I can't put off making decisions. So there's an urgency, a drive and a freedom to the work which I find is good."

It all began with a gift. Not long after his diagnosis, Raymond, the eldest of his four children, and a professor of music psychology and improvisation at Glasgow Caledonian University, gave him a small sketchpad and a box of crayons, with the words: "Keep working, Dad." MacDonald did not feel like drawing, but the impulse later took him at chemotherapy sessions, when he would be seated in a room with up to eight other patients. "I was a bit nervous about producing at first, but I asked my fellow patients if they minded," he says. "Some people sleep or read; my way is to work. It was just a matter of helping me to get through the time but it became much more important when I realised that the drawings, in my humble opinion, have a quality."

In fact, the works were a revelation to the artist himself. "I'm not a figurative artist so this was a new avenue for me to go down. The pastels were a medium I wasn't used to, so there was a bit of magic to it - the materials, the place and everything came together. Sometimes out of adversity, comes something good."

Though sited in the asymmetrical glass-roofed medical school building where they are seen every day by trainee doctors, MacDonald's drawings have a charm and humanity that give them a far broader appeal and make for a rewarding visit.
"Anyone looking for realistic drawings is going to be disappointed," he says. Certainly, they are impressionistic - the lines are fluid, the facial features are absent and context is hinted at rather than drawn in - but they are also arrestingly real. "When an artist approaches his sketchbook, he's expressing something that he feels about that particular situation," says MacDonald. "I feel as though I've captured the character of some of the people involved.

Cancer affects people from all walks of life. The whole thing's a very interesting exploration."

In Sleeping Woman, for instance, the slight tilt of the head in repose gives her away, as if she were trying to stay alert but just nodded off. In Tea Time, there is a tension about the woman gazing down at the white china cup and saucer on her knees, lost in her own thoughts.

The Beatson Drawings are growing in number all the time as MacDonald continues to sketch. He and Nadia spread a selection of the newer ones out on the coffee table. One is of a patient called John reading a newspaper. "He was a character," says MacDonald. "Before they give you the chemotherapy, they have to confirm that you are who you say you are, so you have to give your name, age and date of birth. He went on to say his budgie's name was Joey and his dog ate the budgie - a typical Glasgow guy."

All this helps to offer a different perspective on chemotherapy - something that is, of course, often debilitating. MacDonald himself has had a positive experience. His most troubled period came before the treatment, when he suffered badly with itchiness caused by jaundice. "It became especially intolerable at night," he says. "It happens because the nasties can't get away, so they had to fit a stent in the stomach so that the impurities could get out." Since then, he has felt much better and has been able to live a near-normal life. "The chemo's been great and I've reacted very well to it. It's quite a difficult thing to come to terms with, but I have done that. I have my black moments but most days I'm good."
An obvious source of pride to him are his four children, who share a flair for music: as we look at his latest drawings, he plays songs recorded by Raymond and his daughters. Raymond also does music therapy with people who have special needs. "It's amazing how my son's path and mine have crossed," he says.

"Art, literature, music - it's all great therapy," adds Nadia. "What better way to help people?"

Nadia is a keen supporter of Maggie's and was one of the first readers to sign up as a Herald Friend of Maggie's. "It's just £5 a month and I felt that, in a small way, I was helping," she says. "I've been very impressed with the campaign. Maggie's do so much good. The centres are places people can go, men and women, no matter what type of cancer they have. They can discuss how they're feeling - or equally, if they don't want to talk, they can just go for a bowl of soup or to do some t'ai chi. Hopefully Hamish's involvement will encourage more people to join up and become friends of Maggie's."

The head of Maggie's Centre in Glasgow, Maureen Fee, is delighted the MacDonalds are lending their support. "Hamish is an inspiring Scottish artist and it is great to hear his passion for art is helping him through his treatment. At Maggie's we understand the power of art, complementary therapies - and even a cup of tea and friendly face."

The interview at an end, MacDonald stops for a moment in the doorway. "If you take one thing away, I hope it's this: it's not all doom and gloom, this cancer. It's opened new doors." Hamish MacDonald's Beatson Drawings are on public display at the Wolfson Medical School Building, Glasgow.