Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Although Callender was born in Mottingham, Kent (now deep inside south-east London), he lived in Scotland for 60 years, following a short time (1948-49) at art school in South Shields, County Durham. From 1951 he studied medical illustration at Edinburgh University, but in 1954 moved to the painting class at Edinburgh College of Art, concluding with a postgraduate year spent in Italy, France and Spain on a couple of travelling scholarships from the university and the British School at Rome. In 1960, he began a parallel but successful career as a teacher at the college for the next 33 years, with stints lecturing at the American university in Aix-en-Provence in France.

The momentum of the disaster was two years his work was later displayed in a remarkable show, between tides, at the Talbot Rice Gallery at the University of Edinburgh. Callender avoided direct reference to the Arcadia and instead showed what looked like the skeletons of abandoned boats working, cut and detached bow rudder, but actually surprisingly accurate simulacra of balsa wood, paint, cardboard and papier-mâché made. A boat that looked newly painted white, ghostly white against the un-plastered walls of the gallery. The exhibition seemed to destroy the lives of those ships and their crew to whisper. It was a triumph of realism into handmade elegiac poetry, and was interspersed with photos and acrylic. He regarded the reconstructed wreckage of the boat rather than sculpture, but as an image in three dimensions - less frustrating and more real than the painting on canvas.

In an exhibition called Sea Salvage along the same lines in the same place four years later, Callender used wood ash, sawdust and peat to give texture to his sea pieces. He pointed out that he was making paper from trees look like wood again, and his heart may well have resonated with the ecological implications: however sombre his theme or sad the plastic detritus that he reconstructed, Callender had a great sense of optimism about the enduring culture of the Scottish coastline.

In fact, although he has not thought much about himself, was Callender part of a tradition of Scottish marine painting, by William MacTaggart to Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Bellany, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and of course his wife Liz, who survive him along with two sons, John and Mike, and four grandchildren, Fiona, Laura, Robbie and Sula.

. Robert Callender, artist, born 14th January 1932, died 27th July 2011

Michael McNay


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