When a new virus emerged in China at the end of 2019, the world prepared for a pandemic. It arrived in due time, killing millions of people, reducing the ability of tens of millions more to work, travel and socialize, and destroying economies.
Next to all this, the works of a Scottish artist are small beer and the man himself would be the first to admit it. But for painter and broadcaster Lachlan Goudie, the cancellation of the trip of a lifetime – eight weeks of painting in the Indian Ocean islands – was a blow. It’s no surprise, then, that the prospect of one day resurrecting that plan has become “something of a talisman” for him throughout the dark days of lockdown and his own struggles with the effects of the long Covid.
“A sense of hope and optimism was hard to sustain,” he tells me. “Particularly when I caught Covid myself, and have had long lingering symptoms ever since, I really started to rely on completing this project as something to help get me out of a feeling discouraged by everything we had been through.”
The trip was to be centered on Mauritius. In the parallel universe where there was no pandemic, Goudie would have displayed the works he made there in an exhibition to be held at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh in 2020. None of this happened , sure.
And now the good news. As life returned to normal, Goudie was able to leave his London studio and venture further afield, can of paint in hand. He traveled first to Edinburgh, where he undertook a 10-day residency in a flat in Drummond Place in the New Town. There he worked on an easel that had belonged to the Scottish colourist SJ Peploe.
“I basically covered the apartment in plastic to make it look like a murder scene,” he laughs. “I rolled the easel from window to window and painted the rooftops of the New Town.” It was February, so Goudie made splendid use of the pinks and golds that come to those same rooftops at dusk on cool, sunny winter days.
After Edinburgh he traveled to Inverness County and the Western Isles. Then he went to the south of France. Finally, the dream of 2019 came true: he left for Mauritius.
So, two years later than planned, Goudie’s paintings of bright colors and lush landscapes of the tropics have been completed and are on display at the Scottish Gallery alongside works he painted in Edinburgh, the Western Isles and France. . The exhibition is called Painting Paradise and when I ask him what personal themes or ideas it brings together, he simply replies, “For me, the exhibition is about healing.
And how was Maurice when he finally got off the plane, two years and a pandemic later?
“It was amazing,” he says. “There’s a reason why people like Robert Louis Stevenson and Paul Gauguin formed these ambitions of going on an expedition to the Pacific or to Tahiti because for people in northern Europe, where the light can be slate and where the stories and mythology of our culture are often based on winter folklore, the promise of something on the other side of the world is truly intoxicating, when I got there it really came true on a visual level .
The exhibition features paintings with titles such as Midday Mauritius, Lunch In The Shade, Bel Air (a palm-lined study of a village on the east coast of the island) and Rush Hour, which shows an empty dusty street except for a man sheltering under a red umbrella. In all of these works, the sky is azure, the landscapes and seascapes are flecked with pinks, greens, reds and purples, the light is rich and the people, where visible, are languid.
“When I travel, my curiosity is entirely driven by color and how blocks of color, light, interact and create the very things we see,” he says of the works. “The paintings I create when I’m in the south of France or Mauritius are often not about people, they’re about how you can almost break your subject down into abstraction… If you half close your eyes, a lot of my paintings disintegrate into composite areas of color and tonality, they are almost abstract experiences for me.
Born in Glasgow in 1976 and now based in London, Goudie studied English at Cambridge University but won prizes for his art before he even graduated. He left Cambridge and immediately traveled to India on a painting scholarship and later studied at Camberwell School of Art. He has been mounting solo exhibitions of his work since 2001 and in 2015 presented The Story Of Scottish Art, a major four-part series for BBC Two. Since then he has become a regular presenter on BBC Four’s arts programmes, as well as co-hosting more populist shows such as The Big Painting Challenge and Live Drawing Live!
READ MORE: ‘STASIS’ ART SCHOOL A SCANDAL SAYS LACHLAN GOUDIE
But as well as having a deep knowledge of Scottish art and the ability to talk about it in accessible terms, he also has an inside view of the art world. Painting is in his blood, literally. Her father was the Paisley-born, Glasgow School of Art-trained painter Alexander Goudie, a renowned portrait painter whose models included the late Queen and, closer to home, comedian Billy Connolly, and whose work has been collected by the late Duke of Edinburgh, among others.
“The biggest influence on what I do, inevitably, was growing up in a house where my dad was a painter,” Goudie tells me. “He was the prism through which I began to learn to paint. My father was a very flamboyant painter. He used rich colors, he loved textures and a sense of lushness in his painting.
Goudie senior’s great heroes were artists such as Velazquez, Titian, and Manet, and he would hand his son books on these artists and commission him to draw any pictures he found there. He was six years old at the time.
“That was my entry point. My education from then on consisted of learning to paint from my father and the artists he really adored, but also drawing from my own heritage that I inherited from other artists.
The royal connection also continued. In September, following the death of Queen Elizabeth, Goudie was one of six artists invited to document the lie in state held at Westminster Hall. Dressed and armed with a drawing board, he sketched the crowds that filed past the catafalque and was present when the king and his siblings watched by their mother’s coffin.
“I was put in a corner so as not to get in the way and I was an eyewitness. It was extremely insightful of them to understand that these moments of national significance require more than a photographer. Artists and painters may view these events with a different eye.
He also drew the House of Lords to the ceremony in which the peers pledged allegiance to the king. Goudie’s sketches of both events will be “reviewed”, as he puts it, and either commissioned works or the drawings placed in the royal archives.
“The royal family don’t own any of my work, but it was kind of a full circle,” he says. “My father painted the Queen and I was there to witness and document this very important and poignant milestone in her life and reign.”
Life, death, color, light, stillness, movement and ceremony – all appropriate subjects for an artist for whom painting is heaven.
Painting Paradise is at the Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh, until November 26