Date of RGI Election: 1998
Date of Birth: 16 November 1952
Studied: Edinburgh College of Art 1970 – 1975
Elected: RSW – 1997; ARSA – 1998
Taught to the level of Deputy Head, St Serf’s School, Edinburgh 1986 – 1989 becoming a full-time painter in 1989
RSA – Student Prize; EIS Purchase Prize; City Arts Centre Open Scottish Competition; RSW – Sir William Gillies Award; SAAC – Dunfermline Building Society Award; Scottish Provident Award; Whyte & MacKay Award; RGI – Scottish Amicable Prize; Royal Bank of Scotland Award; RSA – John Murray Thompson Award; RSA – Maude Gemmel Hutchison Prize; Glasgow Mayfest – Paper Boat Award
Atholl Gallery, Dunkeld; Dorothy Quinn Gallery, St Andrews; Henderson Gallery, Edinburgh; Old City Gallery, Jerusalem; Open Eye Gallery, Edinburgh (x5); Roger Billcliffe Gallery, Glasgow (x5); Albemarle Gallery, London
GORDON K MITCHELL RSA RSW RGI is a prolific painter. In his head – or is it his heart? – he is an ‘abstract expressionist’. Often labelled a surrealist, though he thinks not, he certainly wants his work to be thought-provoking! Inspiration can be a group of words, a topical news story, but more usually it’s a visual pun that his pictures develop out of. “I’ve always lived a lot in my head…… silly ideas….. my paintings look a lot more planned than they are!”
As a youngster he was always drawing. As a pupil he was often in trouble. ‘Imaginative and a bit wild’ is how he describes his youth in Edinburgh. Born into a council estate, the son of a policeman, winning bursaries to Gillespie’s and subsequently the Royal High School made for routine bullying. Beatings both within and outwith his home meant much time spent shut in his room, or escaping in whatever way possible – from the age of 8 taking to golf, or being sent to his grandfather’s in Kirkcaldy on the train (“count 7 stations before you get off, walk 300 yards to the bus station, take the no. 3 bus and get off at the 21st bus stop”) and liberating adventures into unknown territory on a borrowed bicycle. Not to mention ballroom dancing lessons….. but that’s another story.
By the time he reached his teens he’d been banned from the art room; “Art” he thought was “dull” – still life over and over and over again. Girls began to change his life from the age of 14. And his drawing ability was honed to skilled reproductions of their nude images in magazines – selling well to fellow pupils! Subsequently he was invited to leave school, and it was at that time that he heard a visiting student teacher give a lecture on surrealism and ‘discovered’ that ‘you can paint what you like’! Delighting in Magritte, Dali, Delvaux and Miro, he has never looked back.
His back was broken playing football at the age of 15, resulting in a trapped nerve; he can never stand for more than twenty minutes and often has to work with his canvas upside-down in order to paint, seated. Undoubtedly contributing to his unique style.
Allowed back to school to sit his Highers, he more or less concocted a portfolio to get into Art School – he’d only recently discovered its existence – and clearly redeemed himself as the only applicant from the school to be accepted! He continued to excel. Although shy, sensitive and thoughtful, he has always said what he thinks; after a run-in on behalf of the students with the then college director he was denied the teaching job offered him by the deputy.
He has no regrets about any of these past times. Everything he feels has contributed to where he’s at. After his teacher training year (he signed up more for the opportunity to hold two exhibitions!) and as a very young father he was glad of a post in Dunfermline. Two years later he transferred to St Serf’s in Edinburgh where for the last two of his fifteen years there he was deputy Headmaster. Teaching was always enjoyable, although he became something of a recluse outside of school at that time.
Routine and his own family – rather than the one he came from – have always meant much to him. He works hard and doesn’t sleep much. He likes an intensive, regular, daily eight hours in his studio. Nowadays he doesn’t draw. Sculpture, for which he also won prizes at College, continues its appeal; but it takes too long! Painting is immediate – often he doesn’t know what he will put on his canvas until he takes up his brush! Awards have been showered on him. They include the Royal Bank of Scotland prize, a major award at the RGI 2001, and an Open National Competition run by the City of Edinburgh which meant a lot because his painting was chosen by those who attended the exhibition. He’d really have liked to have won Glasgow’s Lord Provost’s prize 1999 for which he was the very close runner-up (hip-flask) to Peter Howson (£12,000)!
He also loves antiques and old things, and even had a spell in the trade – well, collecting really! He thinks of himself as Scottish, but has enjoyed engaging with Glasgow artists especially in the course of his six years as convenor of the RGI and involved in the Selection Committee. “Art in Glasgow is particularly lively – the best paintings to be seen in the London galleries are from Scotland. The dealers say the same!”
Gordon is now on the RSA Council. Currently exhibiting at the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh, he sells more paintings in Glasgow than anywhere else. His guess is that it’s probably being on the same humour wavelength….sharing a wicked way of looking at the world!