The renowned artist and sculptor Archie Forrest may be moving, but he will retain an enduring love of craftsmanship and great tradition, writes Cate Devine

As soon as you step up to the artist and sculptor Archie Forrest’s imposing front door in Glasgow’s West End, you know you’re somewhere special. The colonnaded porch of the Victorian terraced townhouse, built in 1883 by the Glasgow architect James Thomson, houses the original mahogany glazed door – complete with its brass dragon handle. This mythological creature seems a fitting custodian of one of the most magnificent – and magical – domestic interiors in the city.
Dark tones of marble and mahogany in the entrance hallway are echoed in the muted hues of Forrest’s large ground-floor apartment-studio whose fireplaces, double doorways, wood panelling, butler’s pantry, four-poster bed, carved mirrors, stained glass, patterned painted ceilings, gold leaf cornices and grandiose chandeliers combine to exude the quiet opulence of Glasgow’s Nineteenth-Century past.

The entire house was built for Adam Teacher of Teacher’s Highland Cream Whisky and his initials are still visible in the entrance carvings. Never married, he bequeathed the house to his housekeeper whose two sons in turn inherited and sensitively converted it into three flats.
Now, after 12 productive years, Forrest is selling his part of the legendary lodging. “One of the best aspects of being here has been seeing the surprise on people’s faces when they come in, because it confounds the notion of the artist in his garret,” he grins. “It also reflects my love of great tradition and craftsmanship. I’ve had a share of it and now it’s time to pass it on to someone else.”
In striking contrast to this unique setting are the vivid landscapes, still lives and portraits that stud the walls, alongside busts of several Scottish notable figures. Not for nothing is the artist, who studied at Glasgow School of Art, widely regarded as a modern successor to the Scottish Colourists Cadell, Fergusson, Hunter and Peploe.

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His work has been regularly exhibited at the Portland Gallery in London, the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and Royal Scottish Academy; is in private collections worldwide; and on permanent public show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Glasgow Art Club. His bronze bust commissions include those of Emilio Coia, Donald Dewar, Sir Alexander Gibson and Naomi Mitchison. The North light at the large front bay window is where Forrest prefers to work – often along to the dreamy soundtracks of Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert and The Blue Nile’s Hats. The cool and constant light avoids the glare of south-facing sunlight and helps draw attention away from the room itself to the brilliant clarity of Forrest’s colour palette of vivid reds, blues, greens, yellows and blacks.

The artist’s main body of work is inspired by trips to France, Italy and Portugal, and influenced by his lifelong admiration of Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso. Newer paintings of Fife coastal towns Cellardyke, Crail and Pittenweem are his first foray into Scottish landscapes. The open, impressionistic style of his landscapes was, he says, learned from his art teacher at Shawlands Academy, John Boyd, who remained a lifelong friend. During the time he has had this property Forrest has made some 500 paintings for five exhibitions at the Portland Gallery and two at the Scottish Gallery. “At times I’ve alternated between Edinburgh and London exhibitions at the same time,” he recalls. “I used to be on that 24/7 treadmill but now, at age 73, I’m going slower. I’m downsizing physically and mentally, but have one more big show at the Portland Gallery planned for 2025.”

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The first painting for this upcoming show – and probably the last he will make here – is Sunlight Bay, Cap d’Antibes, a large work-in-progress that sits brightly on his easel.  “The location is on the road to Juan les Pins, where JD Fergusson painted his Naked Bathers collection,” he says. “It’s quite a distance from there as I like to paint places nobody else has been.”

The remainder of the new exhibition of 70 works will be painted at Forrest’s new studio in the converted washhouse at the back of his home in nearby Cleveden Crescent. He has already begun the onerous task of clearing the Devonshire Terrace studio of frames, canvases, paints and other arty paraphernalia in preparation for the sale. “It’s crazy,” he sighs. “The courier company has already done 10 trips to the house. It’s jam-packed with canvases and we’re not finished yet.”

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He won’t be working from home though. “Having the studio apart from the house keeps work and family life separate,” he says. “When I first started painting full-time at home, I was known to be in my boxer shorts at 1am with a paintbrush in hand. It wasn’t fair on Linda or the children.” 

It was the same when the family lived at Number 4 along the road.
“Drawing a line between work and home means I can give my painting a chance too. I can leave it to settle and go back to it, instead of poking at it all the time.” The light in his new studio will be different too. “It’s a top light, coming from the skylights,” he explains. “It’s very different from here, where the North light casts shadows and brings a different mood. “But change is a positive thing. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t want to go down the journey I’ve always been on.”

He hopes the new owner of Number 8 Devonshire Terrace will get the same pleasure he has had in looking at what past craftsmen were capable of. “It was a delight living in a part of Glasgow’s history,” he says. “The applied crafts are way beyond the pockets of house builders today. Things will change with this move, like the light and shadows, and I’ll take it as it comes. It will no doubt bear new fruit.
“But I’ll never stop painting. After all, you can’t turn off your eyes.”