A graduate of Glasgow School of Art, George Birrell has enjoyed a long career in teaching. He now paints full time from his studio in East Lothian. When he was 15 George visited the villages of the East Neuk of Fife and he’s been fascinated by them ever since. These are villages with such a unique character, and one that contrasts strongly with some of the more dramatic and wild subjects of Scottish landscape paintings. George’s paintings are never of specific villages. However, they pull together the many elements – the architecture, alleyways, harbours and fishing creels – that are quintessentially East Neuk. George writes:
‘I love the east coast landscape, from St. Abbs to Orkney, the rich colours of the land being so different from the west; less green! It makes such a strong impression and I delight in the shapes of harbours, castles and mills. Scottish architecture is very distinctive. I find infinite inspiration in its centuries of evolution (old walls, windows and gables). People are usually absent from my pictures. They are temporary, whereas the buildings and landscape have permanence.
I seldom work on the spot but prefer to remember the essence of a place from frequent visits, improvising forms and compositions. My images are from memory and invention. Close your eyes and think of a favourite place . . . its light, its colours, its smell. You can reconstruct the feeling of a place and that is what I try to do, rather than work from a photograph. Which after all is only a single glimpse on a particular day.
I feel that painting on the spot can get you sidetracked by irrelevant detail, which can obstruct the timeless quality and truth of special places. Editing is essential, and memory’s filter can allow a deeply personal response to the stimuli.’