Obituary: Leading contemporary Scottish artist

Mary Batchelor at a private view of a solo exhibition in 2015.

by Fiona Holland

One of Scotland’s leading and best-loved contemporary artists, Mary Batchelor, has died at the age of 73, leaving a legacy of joy in both her work and her life.

Although she began painting professionally in later life, her commitment to the Scottish art scene was then immediate and she was, at various times, an associate member and regular exhibitor with Visual Arts Scotland and Royal Glasgow Institute of The Fine Arts and artist member of Paisley Art Institute.

She was also the winner of the Mayfest MacRoberts Prize in 1997 and the recipient of the Mackintosh Residency in Collioure, France in 2011.

The west coast-based artist lived in many places, including Paris and London, but she was born Mary Robertson to her parents Jack and Rhoda in Dumbarton in 1944 and educated in Helensburgh at St Bride’s School – she later returned to the area of her roots with her family, living in Mambeg, Portencaple, Helensburgh and then Rhu.

Mary’s work was, and indeed still is, bold, bright and full of energy and vigour, and brought pleasure to gallery spaces and people’s homes across the UK and further afield.

Mary Batchelor in her studio. Family photograph

She loved to travel and her journeys featured across her paintings. But the places she loved most were in her native Scotland, particularly the western Highlands and islands which featured so strongly and captured the hearts and spirit of those who simply admired them in exhibitions or brought them into their homes; she would often return to the same spot again and again to capture changing mood and light.

Showing all over the UK, Mary gathered a loyal and enthusiastic following. From galleries in London, Dublin, Munich and France, to a remote gallery on the island of Islay; from The Cotswolds and Home Counties, to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, her new work was received with anticipation by gallery owners and buyers alike.

Mary’s love affair with painting began at school and she excelled in art. Her hope was that she would head off to art school, but, in the days when schools exerted significant influence over pupils’ choices, she was channeled towards a course in physiotherapy.

Although she did embark on these studies, it was quickly clear that they did not suit Mary and she decided to leave.

Over many years she worked as variously an au pair in Paris, where she acquired a sense of style and elegance which never left her, an air hostess for British United Airways, which later became British Caledonian, and the co-owner of a hotel in The Scottish Borders.

During this time she also married her husband Chas and had her son and daughter, Charles and Amy. Busy years of work and family kept Mary thoroughly occupied, but she had never lost her desire to study art and, once her children were settled at school, she began classes at Glasgow School of Art in the early 1990s under the tutelage of Norman Kirkham, Peter Howson and David Linley, all of whom influenced and inspired her.

She also admired the Scottish Colourists, especially the use of light and shade, as well as their seemingly effortless, confident approach.

After her time at art school, she began to exhibit, often with friends or as part of group shows and she joined Helensburgh Art Club.

Her work was well received and it gave her confidence to continue and to evolve her own style – becoming looser and more assured as the years went by, resulting in an instantly recognisable technique.

Although she initially painted in oils, she found that she was allergic to turpentine and she turned to acrylics, to achieve a similar textural effect – happily, the medium also suited her in terms of rapid and flowing application which dried quickly, allowing her to work further in the moment, giving her the immediacy and spontaneity which she loved.

She mostly painted on canvas or board, though she did also use watercolours for sketches and a series of Italian landscapes.

In her own words, Mary said: “With my work I try to do justice to the land and sea which I see before me, usually in Scotland. They are my passion and the reason I never struggle for inspiration. It is Scotland’s ability to surprise, no matter how well you think you may know her, which has always amazed me.”

As part of family holidays, she had sailed the length of Scotland’s west coast, often mooring in bays inaccessible by road. It was a happy hunting ground for less familiar, but nonetheless stunning, scenes which she could translate to canvas and bring to the attention of a greater audience.

Steadily her reputation grew and Mary’s work was much in demand; she was soon attracting invitations for solo or two/three-person shows from multiple galleries – a particularly memorable exhibition saw her exhibiting alongside John Bellany RA at Duff House in Aberdeenshire.

While she sometimes found preparation for these big shows stressful, she never lost the thrill of being invited and the pleasure of amassing a suitable collection for each occasion.

All that said, Mary was modest about her work and never relished private views; not because she didn’t enjoy meeting people, but simply because she did not like being the centre of attention such occasions demanded.

A great supporter of charitable shows and events, Mary frequently donated paintings and prints to help raise money for causes close to her heart.

Always encouraging, inspiring, kind and strong with an indomitable spirit, Mary sadly lost a long battle with illness on October 19 and will be missed by husband Chas, children Charles and Amy, and grandchildren Jack and Theo, as well as her extended family and numerous friends from all stages of her life.