Catalogue published by the Cairn Gallery, 2019, for a small retrospective exhibition.

A selection of notes, my own and quotations, amongst the drawings in sketchbooks over the wide period covered by the works in the exhibition.


«There is so much written about art that it is mistaken for an intellectual pursuit…our emotional life is really dominant over our intellectual life but we do not realise it.»

Agnes Martin


Declining to die
I am dying                     We are dying
He is dying                    You are dying
She is dying                  They are dying


«The necessary separateness of persons and their consequent opacity to one another.»

Michael Fried


Continuity from the 1970s to now seems to be in drawing and in painted wood constructions. The latter using relatively simple forms in shallow relief or deeper space. These have never been free standing; being on the wall is the important factor. The word construction is not intended as a link to early twentieth century Russian thought, it refers only to the act of making. As with drawing, the tactile activity is vital; physical adjustments made in response to the association triggered by placing, colour, texture and speed of surface.


«Why,» said the Dodo, «the best way to explain it is to do it.»

Lewis Carroll


«You have to deduce a person’s real feelings about a thing by a smile she does not know is on her face, by the way bitterness tightens muscles at a mouth’s corner…»

Doris Lessing


Aged eight or nine, an important publication was the ‘Wee Red Book’, an annual Evening News publication, listing fixtures for the coming football season with the history and statistics of the clubs in the Scottish League’s A, B, and C Divisions. ‘Red chevrons’, ‘claret and amber’ and ‘black and gold hoops.’


«Painting has always been dead but I was never worried about it.»

Willem de Kooning


«What does it mean for a painter to think? – this is the old question to which Hubert Damisch has returned…» (in Fenêtre jaune cadmium). «Not only what is the role of speculative thought for the painter at work? but above all what is the mode of thought of which painting is at stake? Can one think in painting as one can dream in colour? and is there such a thing as pictorial thought that would differ from what Klee called visual thought? Or again…is painting a theoretical practice? Can one designate the place of the theoretical in painting without doing violence to it, without, that is, disregarding painting’s specificity, without annexing it to an applied discourse whose meshes are too slack to give a suitable account of painting’s irregularities?»

Yve-Alain Bois


The term «haptic sensibility» quoted from Bernard Berenson by Eric Prehn in his Italian Renaissance lectures many moons ago at Edinburgh College of Art, drifted in and out of the blue.
Oxford Dictionary:
haptic: adjective technical relating to sense of touch, in particular relating to perception and manipulation of objects using the sense of touch and proprioception. Origin late 19th C: from Greek ‘haptikos’, able to touch or grasp.
proprioceptor: noun, physiology: a sensory receptor, which receives stimuli from within the body, especially one that responds to position and movement.


«It’s not a matter of what one paints – it has always been the way of painting that has determined the work – the final product.»

Robert Ryman



What might be aimed for in a work is the unity, clarity, elegance and simplicity of concrete art, a form holding its place by its own integrity. In the act of making or sometimes finding, in the process of relating, positioning and adjusting, random associations inevitably arise, disrupting initial formal intentions. Even when such seemingly random thoughts or associations are actively dismissed, have they none the less crept into the considered judgements, and in some ridiculous way become part of the content of an image? Perhaps no more than stating intended worthy ideals for an artwork makes them actually exist visually. The material qualities of the work carry the content.


«Some conversations with myself», piano piece.

Thelonious Monk


Robert Louis Stevenson remarked to Henry James that what he wished to do was to starve the visual sense in his books. He heard people talking, he felt them acting, and that for him was the definition of fiction. His two aims were «war to the adjective» and «death to the optic nerve».


«My central premise is that although the reductionist approaches of scientists and artists are not identical in their aims – scientists use reductionism to solve complex problems and artists use it to elicit a new perceptual and emotional response in the beholder – they are analogous. By examining the perception of art as an interpretation of sensory experiences, scientific analysis can, in principle, describe how the brain perceives and responds to a work of art, and gives us insights into how this experience transcends our everyday perception of the world around us.»

Eric R Kandel


Drawing, making studies, being in the studio, reading, allowing thoughts to marinate, are all part of a process to justify or rationalise a work about to be made. But it is only in the act of making, doing, fumbling and stumbling around, elated one moment, questioning the next, that a work actually exists or fails in whatever medium.


«If we were all suddenly somebody else»

Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses


Hugh MacDiarmid wrote Aesthetics in Scotland in 1950. In adding a closing paragraph in 1965 he stated:
«…there have been considerable developments in the arts in Scotland, but few of these have been Scottish and most of them negative…In all of this, little indigenous Scottish work has been evolved – though developments of abstract painting have shared in this orgy of vicious disapproval. The establishment of a Gallery of Modern Art in the Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, has hardly helped matters, since the Scottish element included is extremely small. There has nowhere been a cleaning of the Augean stables, and the appearance in the Scottish Press and other quarters of new writers on Aesthetics, concerned with the Scottish position in the arts, has so far been sporadic and partial. Even an admirable innovation like the Traverse Theatre Club in Edinburgh has relied mainly on kinds of work not yet – or ever likely to be naturalized in Scotland…
Worst of all is the continued absence of aesthetic thought of any value that might realign Scotland with other Western European countries and induce aesthetic developments based on Scottish roots and yet able to withstand comparison with the contemporary aesthetic thought of other countries…The omens are not auspicious.»


«The historical is not an analysis of history, but a sort of distillation.»

Morton Feldman



Hugh MacDiarmid’s writing, for all its crankiness, has a familiarity. As a student at Edinburgh College of Art from Clackmannanshire in the late fifties, newly arrived clutching an art prize, a monograph on the local painter David Allan by the Rev. Gordon, a local minister, I expected to find hosts of Scottish art publications in Thin’s bookstore opposite the Old Quad – there were none. In the College library I looked at an abundance of reproductions of current abstract painting in French magazines such as Cimaise – but there were no Scottish art magazines. The only abstract work on permanent display in the city was from the distant past, in the National Museum of Antiquities. The only 20th century painting in the Scottish National Gallery was Kokoschka’s High Summer, a 1942 gift from the Czechoslovak Government, which was closed off in a locked room. Scottish abstract painters, all working in England, such as William Gear, Margaret Mellis, Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham and Alan Davie, though of standing elsewhere, were never invited as visitors or examiners to the Scottish art schools, their names rarely mentioned in teaching studios.

When we examine the past, do we distort events disproportionally from the significance they held then? Now the sixties are sometimes presented as a watershed time in Scottish art. My memory of them was a time of slow change, when too many young artists of talent felt the need to head south. Probably most history is like this, an Orwellian rewrite that we barely notice, or are party to.


«We must do something about the past, it keeps on affecting the future.»

Iris Murdoch


We live in a world of signs and symbols in our interaction with each other. A mood, a crisis, a state of mind, problems major and minor are often read first by visual signals, muscle contractions, physical changes of colour and posture. When we are alert to this, awareness comes to us before words form in the mind.


«Art appears, and then theory contemplates it; that is the usual order in the relations between art and theory.»

Saul Bellow


Why is Norman McLaren, who thought of himself as a painter, who drew and painted abstract images on celluloid, very long narrow kinetic paintings, from the early nineteen thirties on, not in our painting history as he is in film history?


«Today it remains a puzzle for the artist; how being can assert in the art-object, and how process, or becoming, can play a part in the final, instantaneous presence of a work as the viewer comes to understand it. These questions, rather than those concerning the nature of the image, strike me as interesting in the art of today.»

Brandon Taylor via Jim Mooney


The presence and absence of abstract art from Scotland.


«Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature.»

Josef Albers


«Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.»

Robert Louis Stevenson


«It doesn’t seem functional that we dwindle away and end our lives, just when we have learned so much. And the next generation has to spend decades slaving to regain the same standard of experience that has been reached long before. I know this is rubbish.»

Gerhard Richter


I walked with my reason
out beside the sea.
We were together but it was
keeping a little distance from me.

Sorley MacLean


«The physical mapping of the body has little more to achieve, but the physiology of the consciousness, intellect and emotion still remain deeply mysterious.»

Peter Whitfield


We fumble through on feelings, pretending that it is logic; our minds meeting circumstances, going up, down, flat out, looping, or exploding.


«I know that all beneath the moon decays.»

William Drummond