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Reflections on Robert Kelsey’s approach to painting.

Robert Kelsey in his studio

True to the captivating qualities and philosophy of the Scottish Colourists, whose work he greatly admires, Robert Kelsey paints with vigour and feeling to interpret a sense of place through the power of light and colour. “Light is generally the most important quality,” he says. “For me, the main interest and challenge of painting lies in capturing the particular translucency and clarity of light in different parts of the world.” Over the past decade or so, principally as a result of his twenty successful solo exhibitions at Thompson’s Gallery, Robert has established an enviable following and reputation for his sensitive and atmospheric oil paintings, and especially for his beach subjects.

“I’ve painted beaches and seascapes for more than 30 years,” he explains. “But gradually they have become more welcoming, warm and sunny beaches, and so I often paint in tropical and Mediterranean locations as well as in the UK. “It’s that sort of atmosphere that I am after, preferably with crystal clear turquoise water and stretches of soft sand. I like quiet, remote places, such as in the Hebrides and along the west coast of Scotland.

“One of my most memorable experiences was a visit to Barra a few years ago, where I have family connections. My father was born on the island in 1906. I was immediately overcome by the beauty of this gem of the Outer Hebrides, with the vast flat beach, sparkling emerald water, and huge sky. I also often visit Cornwall, where the light is quite different, while other familiar and inspiring locations include Brittany, Sardinia and the Caribbean.”

The majority of Robert’s paintings are made in the studio and are developed from reference material collected on location.

“I never paint any subject that I haven’t actually been to and experienced,” he says. Depending on the subject matter, conditions and location I might make tonal sketches or perhaps work on colour studies made in gouache or watercolour. And if I can drive to the location, and be able to carry extra equipment, I sometimes make small oil paintings on prepared panels – usually with quick-drying Alkyd paints. Again, I use these as studies for the more resolved, larger works in the studio.

“Although success does have its pressures – with the need to produce consistently high-quality work for gallery shows, for example – “I still thoroughly enjoy painting. I love putting up a large white canvas, mixing some paint and applying that first big area of colour. Equally, I’m always excited to find new locations and new ideas. And, of course, one of the greatest incentives to paint is the knowledge that people can relate to your work and find it interesting and rewarding to look at.”

Robert studied fine art at Glasgow School of Art, where his tutors included David Donaldson, Alexander Goudie and James Robertson. He then pursued a career in teaching art until 1995, when he decided to concentrate full time on painting.