Lesley Main

Born: February 7, 1946;

Died: November 27, 2023

A painter of optimism and colour, Lesley Main’s pictures reflected her own character. Vibrant, open-hearted in mood, spontaneous, kind, her work overflows with warm generosity. They are happy pictures.

She was born in Glasgow, went to Park School and was brought up surrounded by fine Scottish and Dutch paintings, some collected by her great grandfather, a naval captain.

She studied drawing and painting at Glasgow School of Art from 1976, graduating in 1980. Strongly influenced by the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow School with its emphasis on light and shade, use of colour and sensuous handling of paint, she won scholarships to Patrick Allan-Fraser School of Art at Hospitalfield and later travelled throughout Europe, America and Africa.

Her great love of nature was key to all her work. She exhibited widely at the RA, RSA, RGI, SSA, SSWA, GSWA and in London and the USA. Her work is in many collections, including the Ford Foundation, Royal Bank of Scotland, Yarrow, Deloitte, Lithgow Group, John Makepeace; Prudential, and the University of Strathclyde.

Lesley Main, who always signed herself “I Lesley Main”, had studios in Brodick on Arran, in Athens, and Glasgow where in 1982, she and her brother Michael started a gallery in Glasgow’s West End. Lesley was always very supportive of young artists and the tiny third floor Studio Gallery gave many now famous folk like Peter Howson, Phillip Braham, and Donald Urquhart, their very first exhibitions. The Main Gallery soon expanded to a beautiful ground floor space in Gibson Street, where Michael ran things for many years.

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Lesley once told me she was happiest out in the landscape: walking through trees or along a shore. She liked to work fast, responding emotionally, a gut reaction. "Methodically placing one colour next to another doesn't get you anywhere,” she said. “When I observe, be it a flower or a tree, the answer is out there. I then have to resolve how to capture its essence.”

She also said she could work from one domestic still-life for evermore and still find different things within it. "It's phenomenal the difference a minimal amount of change in light or colour makes." Different subjects demand a certain way of handling. "You can't paint a rose the same way as a sweet pea which is transparent, floaty. Then I'd use watercolours, not oil. A rosebud is heavy, plump, firm, and can take oil and a firmer stroke.”

Lesley had an unwavering and certain Christian faith, and a hope for the future. As her brother says, “Lesley’s joy of life and delight in others, in animals of all kinds but especially dogs, her great sense of fun made her beloved by all. People seemed to be drawn to her. She was always beautiful and elegant, always totally unselfish, often to her own detriment. If you had nothing and she had a pound, she would give you the pound, not give you 50p to keep 50p for herself.” This of course could result in sibling arguments, which soon blew over.

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On a personal note, I witnessed Lesley’s abundant zest for life when she turned up in Manhattan for our wedding in 2002 with her adopted son Tom in tow. It was an impulsive 21st birthday present for Tom, but the trip was a very small part of Lesley’s contribution to his life. When his mother, her best friend, was dying of cancer Lesley naturally went down south to help with the four small children. Less usual, she went on to take Tom under her wing, eventually bringing him back to Glasgow to live and study with Michael and her. Later, 20 years ago, when she was first ill with throat cancer, it was Tom who looked after her and nursed her back to health. She looked particularly radiant at his memorable wedding in 2018 celebrated in Glasgow Cathedral and Kelvingrove.

Painting was Lesley Main’s life. She was usually seen as a natural painter. Her joyful pictures with their casual exuberance and delightful subject matter: glimpses of secret courtyards on Patmos, delectable flowers in Athens, wicker chairs on a Key West balcony, gentle sheep on Harris, are however deceptive. They were no easy victory. but the result of punishing hard work, an academic training and a tireless search to grasp that elusive honest vision.

Her many friends know well that light and sunlight were very important to her. My favourite pictures contain the sense of light pouring through a window, with perfumed blossom somewhere hovering in an almost overwhelmingly real scene of uplifting positivity. She was the brightest of lights, the kindest of souls.

She is survived by her brother Michael, her son Tom Allen and grandson Hugo.

Clare Henry