James Fullarton, b.1946

James Fullarton studied at the Glasgow School of Art in 1965-69. This was an exciting time to be at art school, when many educational bureaucracies and artistic practices were being challenged - and not always politely. The institutional atmosphere at Glasgow – with its long history of independence and its long list of remarkable ex-students – might have been somewhat less uncertain and stuffy than other art colleges in the UK at the time; nonetheless, students were demanding an increasingly representative role in influencing the future direction of the School[1] and the freedom to think about, and explore, the functions of art in unconventional ways. Indeed, both tutors and students at Glasgow challenged conventional approaches to teaching and showing art. Studying at such a time could only have been exhilarating.

Director of the School of Art from 1964, was Harry Barnes, who had sustained and promoted the School's reputation for flourishing design and architecture courses. He also encouraged a range of part-time and occasional speakers to teach at Glasgow, introducing aspiring artists and designers to the realms of professional practice. In the 1960s, this established for the School a solid, sustained, reputation.

From as early as 1944, one of the teachers of Drawing and Painting was David Donaldson, who developed a distinguished, academic, career as a portraitist[2] and became Head of Department in 1964. He was also, however, a painter who challenged the reigning structures of teaching, whose work exhibited, ‘energy and sheer joy’ and a sensuous passion for colour, who was recalled, by some, as an ‘inspiring and brilliant teacher’ and who was committed to his students rather than the institution[3]. Also a tutor in the School was Alexander (Sandy) Goudie – called by no less a figure than Sir Timothy Clifford[4], the ‘Don Quixote of Glasgow artists’[5] – whose energy was devoted, in almost equal measure, to entering, ‘the lists against any aspect of what he considered the Establishment’ and revelling in the, ‘glorious virtuoso’ painterliness which distinguishes his work.

With these and other tutors, working in such an atmosphere must have been formative. Not only did students gain a solid grounding in understanding the practical imperatives of handling materials and exhibition, and the continuing significance of the tradition of the Scottish Colourists, those students who had the aptitude and interests of the young Fullarton must have been filled with a sense of adventure and celebration. Robert Kelsey, one of Fullarton’s fellow art students, in the mid-1960s, sums it up.

‘I was lucky enough to get into Glasgow School of Art at the right time. In the mid sixties the Painting School was run by quality artists such as Alexander Goudie, Jimmy Robertson, John Cunningham, Duncan Shanks, and of course David Donaldson. It was hard not to be moved by these painters..’.


Almost from the time he left college, Fullarton has earned his living by painting. He may have shared a love of the rich colour and bright light which many Scottish artists before him – including Goudie – had discovered and celebrated in France, but it is more often the countryside and the people in and around Scotland, especially the South Ayrshire village of Straiton, not far from Edinburgh, which commands Fullarton’s attention. ‘Most painters go to France for colour; I can see it all around me on the Ayrshire coast’.

From Straiton, Fullarton ventures northwards, to the Trossachs, the Highlands and Islands, snatching at the rounded forms and angular reflections; he works in the studio, with bunch upon bunch of riotous, jewel-like flowers; he travels to the west coast, painting the beach, sea, sky and boats of Troon, Saltcoats or (further north) Largs. All this is home territory.

‘The area Fullarton paints best is on his doorstep; the whitewashed Glenhead Farm on the brow of a hill or the view ten yards the other way, looking across to Glenhead House and Arran. He knows each tree and gate like the back of his hand; he can paint on the spot, choosing a particular kind of light at a particular time of day’[6].

Fullarton collects themes, obsessively capturing the intimate details of everyday life, images glimpsed as he passes: the glow of flower petals flocking together, cows silhouetted across the horizon, hens pecking in the dirt, figures on the beach, cloudy skies reflected in the sea, stems sharp against the snow, sunlight glinting on the ramshackle greenhouse in his back garden. He works directly from nature, producing both small sketches, with swift, abbreviated forms and a scattered mosaic of colour, and much larger pictures, often somewhat more finished, but never losing their attack, their insistent colour and powerful vitality. He paints with oils and acrylic, applying his medium with broad brush and palette knife.

To gain a sense of the boldness of the artist, the buccaneering command of his environment, as well as his love of humanity and home, one could do no better than look at the collection of images included on that remarkable website, the BBC’s Your Paintings. There is, at once, a riot of self-portraits, a collection of robust jugs, creamy-white dishes and translucent jars, all full of flowers, and a subtle and insightful portrait, painted in 1992, of the elderly Hans Meidner, emeritus Professor of Biology at Stirling University. These pictures clearly demonstrate that, though Fullarton’s later paintings tend to be more abstracted, displaying the more assertive touch and resonant colour, there remains, always, an extraordinary combination of brio and intimacy, of shout and whisper.

James Fullarton has exhibited with the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, as well as having several shows in various galleries in London, Glasgow and elsewhere, notably with Roger Billcliffe, Glasgow. Fullarton’s paintings are in many collections and he is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s leading contemporary artists. His work can always lift the spirit.

© Dr. Hilary Taylor, 2013.

[1] From 1969, there were 5 student representatives on the School Council. In addition, an advisory ‘forum’ was established, with an equal number of governors, staff and students. This was able to make recommendations and representations to other official bodies. This development, as elsewhere, marked the beginning of what were supposed to be more democratic administrative structures.

[2] In 1977, Donaldson was appointed ‘Painter and Limner to Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland’.

[3] Quotations are taken from Joanna Siden’s Obituary of David Donaldson, The Independent, 27th August, 1996.

[4] Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, 1984-2006.

[5] Quotations are taken from the Obituary of Alexander Goudie, The Independent,18th March 2004.

[6] Clare Henry, The Glasgow Herald, 3rd December, 1985.