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John Houston

British 1930 - 2008

Houston was one of the most distinguished painters of the post-war Scottish school. He regularly exhibited in London, particularly at the Mercury Gallery on Cork Street.

Houston was born at Buckhaven, Fife, on the north shore of the Firth of Forth in 1930.

The artist joined the Edinburgh College of Art in 1948 & left in 1953 with a postgraduate travel scholarship, which took him to Italy for the first time. The college had always had a strong painting tradition, and there Houston counted William Gillies, Henderson Blyth, Robin Philipson and, as personally influential, Penelope Beaton among his tutors, and Alan Davie, David Michie and Jeffery Camp among his fellow students. The young Elizabeth Blackadder was also a near-contemporary, though it was not until towards the end of his time at Edinburgh that they came together as more than friends. They were to prove inseparable. In 1955 she went on the same scholarship to Italy, where Houston joined her for a while. They were married on her return to Edinburgh the following summer.

They then began teaching part-time at the college, appointments confirmed as full-time posts in 1960. Houston is remembered with affectionate respect by his students, including John Bellany, for firm, but ever sympathetic, guidance and encouragement.

Despite Houston's commitment to teaching, his art came first. Houston & his wife would travel abroad regularly on working trips - latterly to Japan, especially to France, and always to Italy particularly Venice. They were both immensely prolific.

Houston's work is characteristic of modern Scottish painting, direct in the statement, rich in colour & texture. It is a natural, sensual, almost hedonistic expressionism, yet it is in no sense indulgent, but founded rather in a deeply sympathetic consideration and understanding of the broader European expressionist tradition, extending back to the Fauves. Indeed, it is worth remembering that Scottish painters were responding long before the English to the more radical aspects of post-impressionism in the years before the first world war. For Houston, Matisse, Nolde, Permeke, Sironi and Beckmann were always particular heroes. Houston's work was predominantly inspired by the landscape. Sea and sky-scapes were reduced often to near abstraction and fraught with an unspoken symbolism. In particular, the image of the Bass Rock, out in the North Sea off North Berwick, became almost his personal emblem.

John & Elizabeth became Royal Scottish academicians together in 1972 & John was appointed OBE in 1990. Dame Elizabeth survives him.

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Original Oil on Canvas
Signed & Dated 'John Houston 1961' (lower left)

Medium: Oil on Canvas

Size: 43.50" x 33.50"

Price: £4,750

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