In the frame: How advice from her dying dad led Alison McWhirter to become one of UK’s leading artists

Alison McWhirter’s paintings have achieved global recognition, attracting a devoted following of private collectors.

But a decade ago, things were very different for the Dumfriesshire-born Scottish painter.

Alison had a secure career in teaching and publishing when her terminally ill father told her: ‘Look you’re a painter, you’ve always wanted to be a painter. So be a painter.’

Now ten years later Alison is set to open her solo exhibition Summer Palette featuring a collection of her distinctive still life and abstract pieces.

It will open on 2 September at the Annan Gallery in Glasgow – the city she moved to in 2013 to pursue her dreams of becoming an artist.

Bemsha Swing by Alison McWhirter

‘Back then, I felt very vulnerable and alone,’ Alison said. 

‘When I left Art school, I was ill equipped to become a full-time artist.  

‘I didn’t have the mental agility, resources, confidence, or the skills required, to make it as an artist.

‘My dad started the seeds germinating. 

‘I remember sitting with him in the hospice and showing some images from the first gallery I was working with, and I saw him gently smiling.  

‘He would be very proud if he could see me today.  

‘I am certain my dad has come back as a sunflower as they appear in so many of my paintings.

‘I’ve experienced so much loss: after my dad died, I suddenly lost my brother, who suffered a brain haemorrhage.  

‘I have had a lot to deal with, but through my painting practice, I was able to process the feelings of loss.  

‘Grief is not linear, and everyone has had those difficult moments to deal with but for me, a daily painting practice has given my life substance and meaning. 

‘Flowers are a big part of this exhibition and it’s all about trying to capture their beauty and colour before it fades away. 

‘Flowers are so monumental and symbolic. 

‘Every flower carries its own message and each of us have our own sometimes deeply personal emotional attachments to them.’ 

How Flowers Feel by Alison McWhirter

As an artist well-known at home and abroad, Alison believes this exhibition comes as she enters the next phase of her career. 

‘When I started out, I was anxious, I was naive, and it was a struggle,’ she said.

‘I’m in a much stronger position now, better able to eliminate self-doubt, ignore negativity and embrace the solitude of the craft. 

‘I spent so many years asking myself ‘should I just get a job’? but now I have enough self- belief to know that my art is my job, and it will sustain me. 

‘I worried that if my paintings didn’t sell, I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills as I had nothing to fall back on. I took such a massive risk. 

‘When I’ve a deadline there’s pressure, and I work round the clock – but I love the work. Now I take more risks and take time to experiment and it’s working.’ 

Alison McWhirter’s ‘Summer Palette’ Solo Exhibition runs from 2 to 24 September at the Annan Gallery, 164 Woodlands Road, Glasgow, G3 6LL.

Read more on Scottish Field’s News pages. 

Plus, don’t miss the September issue of Scottish Field magazine.