When it comes down to it, there are very few places that rival the love and inspiration of home.
Such a phenomenon is shared by marine painter Rob Andrew who, after working in Czechoslovakia and South Africa, returned to the north east of Scotland to pursue and develop his passion for painting.
Drawing on a family connection to the fishing boats in the north east where his mother’s family were fishers from Buckie, Rob specialises in painting emigrant ships and trawler boats. ‘Having these exotic relatives in Buckie helped give me a good impression… I liked the fishing boats.’
This interest in the fishing industry stems from family although his love and talent for art does not. Despite being interested in art at school and going on to apply to Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, Rob ‘came under pressure to do the sensible thing’ and settled for studying architecture instead. This, however, was not a favourable path.
‘I hated architecture. I truly hated architecture. There was not a happy moment the entire time I was in architecture’
Despite this, it is an architectural influence that encourages Rob’s need for complete accuracy, thus producing his astonishingly detailed paintings.
Rob adopts the medium of gouache in his work, ‘an opaque watercolour, quite chalky which limits the tonal range… it naturally falls into a middle distance and beyond’. It is through this technique that his paintbrush graces the canvas in astounding scenes of meticulousness and diligence. The vessels he creates, often braving the rough seas or hugging distant coastlines, are picture perfect, standing proudly within history and the framework of his artistry.
Rob’s talent flourished upon recognition from Subsea 7 at the Belvedere Gallery in Aberdeen.
‘They put a display of my Aberdeen troller paintings in the window and for some reason one of my exhibition paintings was there also. Someone from Subsea 7, who lived around the corner, saw the shop window and thought “we need something different for our calendar; I wonder if we can get this guy to paint something.” It was serendipitous, miraculous, totally out of the blue.’
Consequently, Rob was asked to make the 2007 calendar for Subsea 7. He ended up making 3 and painting a ‘godmother gift’ for the launching of a new ship brought across from Norway. This incredible opportunity led to his work being featured on walls all around the world and screwed onto the bulkheads of different ships he has painted.
Rob’s modesty precedes him as he is ‘very reluctant’ to call himself an artist, trying to exclude himself from what he paints and refrain from interposing himself on the art. Thus he adopts the term ‘marine painter’ instead.
‘I like to be authentic. I like my pictures to be realistic, plausible in the details they show.’ This authenticity characterises Rob’s artwork and aids him in creating such an accurate representation of the ships he portrays.
Rob was pulled into the current of painting emigrant ships as the personal stories surrounding them were a pleasant contrast to the macabre ones surrounding other vessels. Whilst gaining inspiration for his work, the painter asked around for stories of the fishing industry in the area and was greeted, rather startlingly, with tragic tales of death and men falling overboard. It was only those stories of emigrant ships that acted as a reprieve for this, encouraging Rob to dive into this specific aspect of the industry for his work.
‘The history of these emigrant ships is so full of these wonderful little incidents that it just gives you a much more positive outlook on life’.
As if painting with such precision isn’t hard enough, Rob often has to produce paintings without the model in front of him, relying instead on old photos, computer generated drawings or his own experience of painting sister ships. This requires him to employ a technical approach as well as an artistic one. In light of this and having to work with old photos, Rob also makes digital restorations of damaged photos, showing yet another side to his creativity and passion for the preservation and representation of emigrant ships.
Following this success and skill in his line of work, Rob’s next subject is the Aberdeen-built Malcolm Miller. With projects like this he continues to bring credit to Scotland and the skilled craftsmen who created these impressive vessels that sailed to countries all over the world.
The artist paints an eclectic array of ships such as fishing boats, trawlers, dive support vessels and even fishermen. His painting The Fragrant Crew is a stunning depiction of eight crew members on board Fragrant. The soft yet vivid colours accentuate the detail that he employs, producing a refined scene of the men in their element.