Callan at 60 – An exhibition of evocative and elegant Figurative paintings by Damian Callan @ the Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh
As he celebrates his 60th birthday in December 2020, Damian Callan can reflect on a most successful career, specialising in figurative painting and portraits, teaching art classes for adults and children, and as the author of two books, Paint Like Degas and Paint Like Renoir.
This exhibition is partly a retrospective collection from the past twenty-five years (kindly lent by the owners), which are complemented by new sketches and paintings. The subjects for these figurative scenes are his wife Ruth, their four children, cousins and friends while on holiday in Argyll and Outer Hebrides.
Damian Callan has followed in the tradition of two Scottish masters in the genre of painting children. Joan Eardley is renowned for her iconic portraits of the twelve Samson bairns who lived near her Glasgow studio. Born in 1835, William McTaggart grew up on a remote farm in Aros, Kintyre, a memory which would later permeate the subject of his paintings: “the fisherfolk of his past and a recurring vision of children playing in the surf …rosy cheeked kids, bathed in perpetual summer sun.“ Lachlan Goudie, The Story of Scottish Art.
Here too are Callan’s painterly reflections to illustrate the family’s seaside adventures in the summer sun, between 2003 to 2014, from Skipness, Kintyre to the Isles of Berneray. These colourful “snapshot” images capture the joyful sense of freedom as the kids run on the beach, play in the sea, and gather cockles in rock pools.
There is such a tangible feeling of movement in their exuberant, arm waving gestures, as the kids jump and splash in the waves. Several charming paintings show the fun of messing about in boats and rowing a dinghy.
The process starts with photographs and from these prints, sketches are made to create a loose impression of the realistic images, and then finally, working on the composition in oil on canvas, panel or paper. Callan has perfected the inventive use of a printmaker’s roller, to add texture to the surface of the paint to depict the shimmering water and frothy white surf.
These timeless images of happy carefree days bring a real sense of nostalgia for our own childhood, whatever age we are. Children and Lighthouse in particular, has a vintage quality, reminiscent of favourite stories such as Swallows and Amazons and the Famous Five adventures by Enid Blyton.
Fast forward to 2020 and a diverse range of new work – seascapes, figurative sketches and fashionable frocks with oil paintings, small studies and prints for sale.
From the earlier style of composition with impressionistic, smudges of brush strokes, there is now a bolder, brighter approach with vivid colour and clarity.
As shown in Running In and Running Out, these are gleeful moments of youthful energy with a fine depiction of movement, in Callan’s distinctive, characteristic painterly style.
Escape is a lovely picture of a wee boy, standing in the boat as if pretending to be a Venetian gondolier, as the children look out for fish and crabs along the seashore. Again, the vision of carefree, childhood fun, evoking the nostalgic world of Enid Blyton.
Damian Callan has long been influenced by the figurative paintings of Edgar Degas, whose work he examined and explored in academic detail, to write his book, “Paint Like Degas.”
“Degas was spectacularly inventive in his approach to composition,” he says, “Movement characterizes many of his subjects –the dancers, the racehorses – .. .. the pattern and rhythm of repeated figures, the dancers in a line on the Barre.”
With similar, elegant, Degas-esque mood and manner, there is a series of beautifully composed paintings of Damian’s wife Ruth, pinning up her hair, dressing and posing in silky, floaty cocktail gowns.
These are delightful, intimate portraits of the artist’s slender model, as she zips up a blue dress and shows off her posh, crimson-plum frock – humorously described as Lockdown Bedroom Dress. Sadly all dressed up and nowhere to go for a night out at the Ballroom or go to the Ballet.
“Callan at 60” is a most impressive retrospective of his career, from the tranquil, domestic portrait, Ruth, Daffodils and Kettle, (1995), through a time-travelling trip around atmospheric seascapes to the recent Vogue-style fashion shoot.
William McTaggart painted young children to portray “an optimistic symbol of renewal and rebirth.” Likewise, Damian Callan has preserved his memories to portray family life and the innocence of childhood with imaginative vision, humour and heartfelt love.
Callan at 60 @ Dundas Street Gallery, 6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ
11th – 17th December, 2020 – open daily, 11am to 6pm.
A well illustrated catalogue with an inspiring introduction by Ruth Callan is available at the gallery.
For more information, view a Gallery of images and details of Online events, see the website:
Monday 14th December: 10am, Live Virtual Tour of Exhibition
Tuesday 15th December: 10am. Artist’s Talk & Short Film with contributions from collectors
Wednesday 16th December: 10am, Painting Demonstration