We look at the new model of the old Mackintosh Library that is held inside the mint green egg of the new glass building at The Glasgow School of Art, whilst the old Mackintosh is being restored. Finlay Mackintosh (b.1953) tells me about his namesake’s empathetic architectural touches. The Scotland Street School had windows positioned in the cloakroom in such a way that the sun’s rays would come through and dry the coats of the children when they were in class.
Finlay Mackintosh can talk. He tells me that over the years he has copied works of the masters like Van Gogh, Gauguin and Rembrandt, to understand the painting from the inside out, beginning in the hidden heart of the painting rather than the surface. “If I only learn one percent from each artist I’ll be ninety five percent better at the finish!”
Mackintosh was inspired by his aunt Isobel whose house, he recalls, was crowded with many artworks including a painted cigar tin and a small, perfect flower painting by Scottish Colourist JD Ferguson; as well as mantelpiece paintings, long and thin, by James Morrison (1932-). Morrison was well known for painting pictures in the 1950s’ of recently derelict Glasgow tenements. Mackintosh’s aunt had been secretary to Dr Tom Honeyman, Director of Glasgow’s Museums and Art Galleries. Her husband had been the conservator who had restored the slashed, controversial Salvador Dali painting ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’ (1951) after it had been attacked by a visitor in 1961. Honeyman had bought that painting for the city. From seeing his sketchbooks, and realising that a love of art had been handed down in the family, Finlay Mackintosh’s aunt encouraged him to take his skills further.
He began attending art school evening classes, firstly in graphics. When homework assignments were set, he would bring in six responses to everyone else’s one; the first signs of as what he coins, a “profundicity”. The graphics tutor advised him his talents and production lay in painting. Mackintosh still continues to enjoy classes, regularly attending the life drawing class at The Flying Duck in Glasgow’s city centre. Levitating pencil drawings of recumbent women are drawn in lines that are simple and sure.
We are settled in the art school canteen now. The paintings we look at on his Smart Phone, whilst diverse in subject matter, all share a confidence in paint, a love of detail and a talent for colour and shape. There is the subject matter I am familiar with, from his sales two years ago through a charity shop on Sauchiehall Street. Dancing paintings of civic spaces captured through the seasons, over the years, include the flower beds and trees of Glasgow’s green parks.
There are new paintings of the city captured in its bustle, with crowds thronging at Glasgow Central Station and another one capturing the festival atmosphere of the June festival the Glasgow Mela. There are a series of scenes which come from further afield from his past travels to Paris, Venice and Amsterdam. Surprisingly, another strong theme is films. One particularly eye-catching image sees a werewolf’s head crowding the frame with his fur painted in thick impasto. Mackintosh tells me he has also made a painting of Doctor Who’s tardis. A particular favourite of mine is a painting of a woman with her dog. He has captured the lean of the dog into her body, and introduced really contrasting planes of colour with a vibrant purple over her forehead, and white ‘socks’ on the sandy dog’s front paws. Mackintosh explains he is interested in the ‘pull’ of the picture; its ability to connect with a particular viewer to draw them into its depths. The painting should not be flat but have life in it. He always finishes what he starts, because if he doesn’t, he sees it “as the beginning of excuses”.
Mackintosh has accrued fans for his work over the years, with Peter Howson visiting him in the nineties and buying six works. He describes how two years ago, three Cornish artists got in touch, getting his phone number from contact details he wrote on the reverse of the hardboard paintings he put into the charity shop. He recalls them visiting his home in Springburn where he makes all his work- “I could see right away they were very respectable, very well dressed.” They were amazed by his level of output- he normally paints one picture a day- and bought several paintings to take back to Cornwall with them. Most recently a school teacher Hazel Walker visited him, and told her sister Audrey, who was a friend of a curator at The Dock in Carrick-on-Shannon, that they really must see his work. This has resulted in his solo show ‘Selected Everything’ ( 10 April-6 June 2015). The paintings, kept unframed in parts, are cleverly hung in sections, creating schematic globes of how Mackintosh sees the world on the gallery walls.
Mackintosh defines an artist as someone who is, “always seeking without knowing exactly what you are wanting to find“. He recalls the last work Charles Rennie Mackintosh made, painting a lobby and stairwell of a Chelsea apartment for a London client. There was a public outcry about the work, as it was painted using only yellow and black. They did not realise that it was because the client was colour blind that Mackintosh had used only colours he could see.
Finlay Mackintosh can dance. He is off to a jazz class in the evening, where he may not be able to do box splits, but can, he tells me, do unusual bends that the others cannot.