Born: April 5, 1944;

Died: July 13, 2022.

GORDON Cockburn, artist and creator of an extraordinary series of Holocaust paintings, has died age 78 in his home town of Maybole, South Ayrshire, writes Robert De Mey.

Following a visit to Auschwitz in 1993, he experienced nightmare visions of the Holocaust and felt driven to explore the experience of the Jewish people consigned to the camps, through a major series of several hundred paintings and drawings, developed over several years. This work was praised by Cantor Ernest Levy (author of A Single Light), who had survived the Holocaust and settled in Glasgow.

Cockburn exhibited widely, including the MacLaurin and Rozelle Galleries in Ayr; the Royal Glasgow Institute, Cyril Gerber Fine Art, T&R Annan and Cormund galleries in Glasgow; the New Solen Gallery in Edinburgh, the Dick Institute in Kilmarnock, POSK (Polish Cultural Centre in London), and the Lighthouse Gallery in Whitehaven, Cumbria.

He also had his own gallery in Maybole between 2002 and 2019. South Ayrshire Council holds examples of his work.

Cockburn was born to a mining family; his father, also Gordon, spent his entire working life in the East Ayrshire mines and was a member of mining rescue teams. His mother was Jenny McEwan, who worked in the Lees boot factory.

Cockburn excelled in Art at Carrick Academy, and was encouraged to pursue his studies by his teacher, William ‘Bill’ Lockhart, the Principal of Art, who both encouraged pupils to find their own voice, and educated them in contemporary developments across Europe.

Economic circumstances dictated that Cockburn had to seek employment, firstly at Orangefield (now Prestwick) Airport, and later in the car parts and garage equipment industry. In addition to painting, Cockburn somehow found the time to play ice hockey to a good level, and to pursue an interest in motorsport in the 60’s, often creatively building cars to astonish and confound fellow drivers.

His children remember that in the early days their father had an unheated studio shed, and after a full day’s work he often had to be retrieved in a frozen state after painting into the early hours. Cockburn befriended Ronald Rae, sculptor, and for a time in the 1970’s they worked side by side, fuelled by creative fervour and sometimes by a drink. They maintained a lifetime dialogue about art and each other’s work.

Cockburn undertook strong portraits and landscapes from the age of 15; later he developed a strong expressionist style alongside his existing talent for colourist work, working confidently with india ink, watercolour, pastel and oils. Cockburn had a particular genius for balancing all the elements of a painting - composition, line and form, colour, depth and texture. Influences included Chaim Soutine, Georges Raoult, Josef Herman, Graham Sutherland, and David Bomberg.

Cockburn visited Marcel Marceau in Paris, and later created an extensive and dynamic oil and pastel series in tribute to the famous mime artist. His other series included coal mining and its communities, landscapes, townscapes, Masai Mara, Amsterdam, Paris, and expressionist figurative work.

He had no ‘typical’ style due to his constant development, but a representative work would include a colourist palette adaptable to the painting’s emotional expression, confident handling of the infinite variations of black, and an exquisite use of texture and impasto, all within a bold and immediately expressive composition.

He continued working in his studio up until his death.

Gordon Cockburn felt the scars of human suffering deeply, but also appreciated the joys of friendship, the latter celebrated with quirky and enduring anecdotes. A friend said, ‘I used to pop down for a quick chat, and I was there all afternoon. I could swear that Gordon never drew breath for three hours’.

Cockburn always took his art in new directions, but with a central mission of exploring and thus revealing the human condition. His singular ability, over and above his assured technique, was to render threat, damage and persecution with a tenderness which ultimately reforms our understanding of ‘the common weal’ in these troubling times.

He is survived by a daughter, Michelle, and a son, Daryl.