Bow Fiddle Rock, Portknockie, by Gordon Mackie
Bow Fiddle Rock, Portknockie, by Gordon Mackie

Artist Gordon has enjoyed his brushes with success

During his tenure as principal teacher of the art department at Moray’s Buckie High School, Gordon Mackie turned to painting as therapy.

‘I was one of those 24-hour teachers and someone said to me, “for God’s sake, Gordon, you’re a good painter, get back into it!” so I set up in the classroom and started painting. Once you pick up a brush, you forget about league tables.’

Gordon was born in Glasgow in 1954 and studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1972 to 1976, where he achieved first equal in Drawing and Painting. At that time, art schools weren’t just places of learning but institutions that nurtured a particular style, says Gordon, who missed out on joining the artist’s co-operative, the Glasgow League of Artists, because his paintings were too influenced by the school’s palette of blues and greys.

Bow Fiddle Rock, Portknockie, by Gordon Mackie

When he spent a residency at Hospitalfield arts centre in 1975 as one of the top four art students in Scotland, his eyes were opened to a world of colour and he returned to his course painting on large canvases using bright hues, much to his tutors’ dismay – ‘Mackie, what are you doing!’

An interesting aspect of Gordon’s work is that he revisits the same scene again and again; this allows him to perfect the composition quickly and focus on techniques. Inspired by the landscapes of the North-East, his paintings include a number of renditions of the famous cliff view at Bow Fiddle Rock and of a winding Aberdeenshire road meandering into the distance, reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows. Gordon cites the Dutch post-impressionist as one of his major inspirations, along with Joan Eardly, another Glasgow School of Art alumnus who portrayed the rugged coastline of Aberdeenshire in her work.

Mackie also admires the paintings of abstract artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, and these influence his style to an extent. ‘I wasn’t into total abstraction because I wanted my paintings to still have some realism in them, but the colours and learning how to handle a brush like these abstract painters – that sort of became a “Mackie” so to speak.’

The Path from Findlater Castle, by Gordon Mackie

However, Gordon admits he is still nowhere near defining his signature style, highlighting one of the paintings on the wall of his studio, Portknockie Cliffs, a view looking toward Cullen Links from the Whale’s Moo at Portknockie, as the closest he has come yet.

And while he thinks some of his paintings look like they have been ‘rattled out’ quickly, Gordon is clear that this isn’t the case. In fact, he normally rotates three or four paintings at a time, working them until they are 85% finished and then completing the last 15% little by little, while they are framed.

But for Gordon, whose career highlight so far has been serving as a Trustee for the National Galleries of Scotland from 2003 to 2007, the work is never really done and one of his goals at the moment is learning to ‘paint more freely’.

‘For some reason, it gets back to tightening it up again and I don’t know if it’s a confidence thing or too much concentration. I don’t know if ambition is the right word but you’ve got to have somewhere you want to work towards.

‘Whether you get there or not, I don’t know – it’s a journey.’