Robin Hume RGI Obituary

Robin Hume RGI

Artist and teacher

Born: May 28, 1943;

Died: February 9, 2017

Lunchtime? Oil on Canvas, Robin Hume

ROBIN Hume, who has died aged 73, was a talented painter and sculptor and a popular teacher at the Glasgow School of Art. When the school had a hostel on the Culzean estate in Ayrshire, Hume ran it with great enthusiasm and for two decades encouraged students across all disciplines to benefit from the inspiring location.

He was born and raised in Clydebank. His father James was a Shakespearian actor, for a time commited to the development of Pitlochry Festival Theatre. His mother Helen hailed from Tiree. By the early 60s, his father had exchanged treading the boards for laying them, establishing J Hume & Co in Glasgow as timber importers and floorlayers. The young Robin became an accomplished finisher and while he was far more interested in art than following his father, he was proud of the beautiful random lay of elm boards later achieved by the firm at the Hunterian Art Gallery.

After Clydebank High School he started at Glasgow School of Art as a private fee-paying student, transferring to the diploma course in the mid 60s and graduating in 1969. The emergence of “op”, “pop”, post-painterly abstraction and “happenings” in the wider world led many students to consider their lecturers rather more old hat than was usually the case. Not Hume though, who, quite unmoved by current trends, was fascinated by the technical mastery and bravura of David Donaldson and Sandy Goudie, and sought to emulate them.

Hume was his own harshest critic. The essay subject: “Why I paint the way I do” elicited the response “because I can’t do any f*****g better!” Many promising starts, particularly in portraiture, were scraped off the canvas, as he sought the elusive goal of a “speaking likeness”.

Before his final year, he received a scholarship to Hospitalfield Summer School, spending three months in Arbroath in 1968. For once, faced with seizing the moment or losing it forever, he painted a portrait of Angus Neil, once the platonic lover of Joan Eardley, who haunted the environs when absenting himself from Sunnyside Hospital. While other students turned away from the tramp, Hume, with typical humanity, purloined food from the pantry and encouraged him to sit. In a couple of sessions he brilliantly captured the nervous intensity of the man. But Hume’s progress ground to a halt and a postgraduate scholarship could not be granted. Perhaps he had been too long the student and a year of school teaching in Ferguslie Park followed.

For some years the School of Art had leased the stable block at Culzean from the National Trust for Scotland, as a “green lung” far from Glasgow. It provided accommodation for 20-30 students at a time, and was for many inner city students their first close encounter with the countryside.

By 1970 Lennox Paterson, the school’s registrar, was finding the post of warden difficult to fill. There had been bad feeling between school and trust and bad behaviour by unruly students when Hume took over the task in 1970-1. He revelled in it, becoming permanently resident and helping successive waves of students, week by week, year by year. They were encouraged to sketch from nature, build bridges over gorges, carve the local sandstone … whatever was reasonable. At the same time he exercised firm control (varying from subtle to menacing) on the afflictions – mainly hormonal and alcoholic – to which students seem perennially prone. This weekly regimen in term-time, and a growing number of vacation visitors, took a toll on his own creativity.

With encouragement and advice from Sandy Goudie, and ceramicist Alex Leckie, he began modelling and firing terracotta portrait sculptures from about 1973-4. He called them his Heads: not the grand baroque bust of the past, nor even the head and neck, but just the head – on a spike. At first he honed his skills on neighbouring estate workers, but by the 1980s he was also at work in Glasgow, using a studio in Glasgow Art Club. Several local heads have taken up residence in the Shanter Inn, Kirkoswald, where any visitor could compare them with their originals, propping up the bar. Technical problems with his kiln led more than one head to explode, and Hume switched to ensuring all his later work was cast in bronze.

They were shown regularly at annual exhibitions of the Royal Glasgow Institute, and Hume was awarded RGI status in 1998. Encouraged by Duncan MacMillan, an exhibition of some 16 heads was mounted in the Adam library area of the Talbot Rice Gallery around 2004, subsequently transferring to Glasgow Art Club, of which Hume was a long-established member. Several may be viewed there today. The heads are characterised by a rugged finish while at the same time portraying recognisable beings with great accuracy. Some are vivacious, some are grave of mien, some have an antique dignity, but all seem possessed of inner thought. Although currently unrepresented in our public collections, they will one day be ranked among the finest yet made in Scotland.

In 1989 the School of Art declined to renew the lease at Culzean, and the ending was marked by a grand weekend wake Hume organised for former students, staff, neighbours and summer visitors alike. He relocated over the hill to Kirkoswald, where, in an elevated position, he overlooked the Auld Kirk and graveyard. He was re-employed within the school, encouraging life drawing and painting directly from observation. The steady advance of computer-aided design and project-oriented goals left him cold. What he warmed to was the number of students, often fee-paying from England and overseas, who still chose Glasgow to learn how to draw and paint.

After his retirement in 2003 he was able to extend his workspace in Kirkoswald, and returned to painting – specifically oil painting, for no acrylics would be permitted to grace his large white vitrolite palette. His subjects were landscapes and garden views, drawn from his immediate surroundings, and still-lifes. The latter were often elaborately composed from assemblies of objects found and treasured over a lifetime. Capturing the fall of light upon them, controlled both artificially and from skylights overhead, became a significant object of study, which he was enthusiastically pursuing until the day before his untimely death.

Apart from art, conviviality was a special subject. Robin Hume made enduring friendships with many people, often bringing them together from quite disparate walks of life. For all those fortunate to have known him, memory will surely hold the door.

Chris Allan

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