• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

George Devlin

Artist

Artist

Born: September 8, 1937 Died: May 26, 2014

GEORGE Devlin, who has died aged 76, was a Glasgow artist who earned an international reputation as a landscape and still life painter and also as a portrait painter, with his portraits of Sir Alexander Cairncross and Sir James Black being commissioned by Glasgow University and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

He was born in Springburn, Glasgow, the second youngest of four boys and two girls. His father became a committed Marxist after serving in Flanders during the First World War where he lost seven brothers and he did not take kindly to George's insistence, from his early teens, that he was going to Glasgow School of Art to train as a painter. Neither did his headmaster, who prevented him becoming Dux at Albert Senior Secondary as retaliation for losing his star Latin pupil to the art department.

At Glasgow School of Art, he found himself among many young people from similar working class backgrounds where "no idea was too bizarre and where having fun was not necessarily considered frivolous". He followed a traditional course as a painter, much inspired by David Donaldson, whose own background was not dissimilar to Mr Devlin's, and who passed on to him a lifelong passion for painting in oils.

In 1960, he left the School of Art with a Haldane Travelling Scholarship. His plan for his trip had to be approved by the director, Douglas Percy Bliss, who considered his project over-ambitious and listened to the proposals of travelling with a tent and rucksack, hitch-hiking across Europe, with mounting unease.

But he gave his approval and the young artist set off for France and Italy, the beginning of what he later called his bigamous love affair with the two countries. He worked his way across Europe, sleeping on buses, occasionally in a cave, but usually wild-camping in his tiny tent. Eventually he arrived in Greece where, after pitching his tent in a farmer's field, he was summoned to the farmhouse but instead of being evicted he was given a bed and board for some weeks.

He returned to Glasgow determined, like many of his generation, not to teach but to earn his living as a painter. It worked, somewhat precariously, for a while until in 1961 he won a Carnegie Travelling Scholarship at the Royal Scottish Academy.

With a group of Glasgow friends, with whom he had spent years walking and climbing in the highlands, he set off in a Bedford Dormobile for Nigeria, via the Sahara. After many adventures in the war zone that covered much of North Africa he arrived in Kano, Nigeria.

There he found a job as a commercial artist, producing lettering and posters, but after some months he was offered a post in the college at Zaria where he taught until he returned to Scotland on leave in the summer of 1962.

The prime reason for his return to Glasgow was to see his girlfriend Margaret Ogden, whom he married in 1964. But a chance meeting with Donaldson brought the offer of a job in the painting department at the Art School. Mr Devlin, only a few years older than his students, became a popular tutor, particularly for his arrangement of a summer school at Easdale.

Although his fellow tutors did not approve of this venture, he persisted and mounted a memorable exhibition of the student work produced that summer. Some years later he re-established his Easdale summer school as an independent project and in the 1990s relocated it to Vétheuil in France.

He was not happy with the politics at Glasgow School of Art and resigned in 1964, the year he was elected RSW and moved to Edinburgh where his wife was working. He described the next few years as his nomadic years taking odd jobs as a driver - lorries, buses and ambulances - barman or bouncer - the latter very shortlived.

Financial and marital pressures turned him to teaching and he embarked on a new career, eventually becoming head of art at Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh and then head of art in the Design Department of Glasgow College of Building and Printing, where he worked until 1990. He and Margaret eventually divorced in 1968.

During the 1970s his career blossomed with solo exhibitions in Edinburgh at the Scottish Gallery and with Ricky Demarco. Scottish Television commissioned a series on art and Scottish Ballet asked for costumes and sets for The Embers of Glencoe, produced by Peter Darrell with music by Thomas Wilson.

His major achievement of the 1970s and 80s, alongside a growing reputation as a painter exhibiting widely in Scotland and Europe, was his association with the Glasgow League of Artists. Despite its name, GLA was not just for Glasgow painters and included artists from around Scotland. In the days before WASPS and the appearance of several private galleries in the city, the GLA provided gallery and studio space and, as chairman from 1977-79, Mr Devlin organised exhibitions around Scotland and England and then in Ireland, France, Canada and Holland.

In 1990 he gave up his teaching post to concentrate full-time on his painting and it is from this date that his work developed into the mature style that brought him an international ­following. Freed from the time restraints of teaching he was able to spend weeks, and sometime months painting in France and Italy and, later, India.

His love of the outdoor life, and an ability to withstand the rigours of cold and wind, as well as sun and rain, meant that he always painted en plein air. Whether in his favourite Vétheuil on the Seine, in Venice, in Udaipur, or nearer home at Corrie, he became a fixture seated on his artists' donkey working on a full-size canvas. Periods as artists in residence in Dinan and Collioure were translated into colourful exhibitions back home in Scotland, London and also Capetown, Johannesburg, New York and Venice, Hong Kong and Tokyo and many others.

In recognition of his love for the Val d'Oise, the French Post Office commissioned five images for promotional use on the mail in the region and his biography, A Brush with Life, was written and published by Thierry Gardie of Vétheuil.

Mr Devlin's sensitive portraits are not so well known but they ranged from paintings of Marie, whom he married in 1979, and their daughter Nuala, to more elaborate and formal portraits. Among his public commissions were Archbishop Conti, Nobel prize-winner James Black, and Alexander Cairncross, economist and Chancellor of Glasgow University. More informal studies included good friends such as Joe and Annie Thomson and Jack McLean, a tireless supporter and publicist of Mr Devlin's work.

In 2002 he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy took its toll for a year, and again in 2004 with further treatment for lung cancer. In 2009 he described the following years as 'post cancer euphoria…and five years down the line that early joie de vivre has moved up a few notches'. He seemed to find new energy as a painter, his winning exhibitions being ­accompanied by professional recognition in Scotland and England. He also made passionate and regular ­appearances on the letter pages of The Herald.

Despite unease about his health, he completed one of his most popular and successful exhibitions for the Roger Billcliffe Gallery, which opened at the end of April. At the opening he seemed his usual irrepressible self but his illness was only too apparent. Last week he started chemotherapy for the return of his cancer but suffered a cardiac arrest and died a few days later at the Beatson.

He was devoted to his family and is survived by his wife Marie and daughter Nuala.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

236845