JAMES GREER: 70 YEARS AN ARTIST, Lillie Art Gallery Milngavie Glasgow – Clare Henry

James Greer

As a student, I did some wood engraving. So I know how difficult it is. JAMES GREER has over 60 years of experience wielding a sharp tool over boxwood with superb, often witty, always joyful results. His work is, above all, autobiographical, drawn from personal experiences, especially around his family – all now involved in the art world, even down to his grandson Luke.

Narrative, figurative, as the forward says, “Here there are no hidden meanings; they are illustrations of a good life well lived. “However, let me explain Dumgoyne and its 36 views reflecting the influence of Hokusai’s Mount Fuji. Drumgoyne is a well-known landmark hill on the edge of the Campsie Fells & visible from Glasgow – a volcanic plug – which makes for a very steep climb! For Greer, it features everywhere in his everyday life- even on the skyline of a rugby tackle, cemetery, junkyard or through a plane window. ‘Tree Pruning’ viewed from his upstairs studio window also features his desk with burin tools, maps and art books on Hokusai and Bewick, along with views of neighbours, washing line, and his wife at another window. Love of detail coupled with hilarious incidents and lots of sexy coupling give any visitor lots to look at!

Born in 1934, he grew up in the rundown Townhead area, now long gone and replaced by shiny college campuses; he remembers Old Glasgow before it was cleaved by the M8 and has immortalised its tenements, back courts, swing parks in his tiny and evocative prints.

James Greer
James Greer

Greer attended Glasgow Art School 1954-58, taught by the famous Philip Reeves and Lennox Paterson, here developing his lifelong love of the exacting discipline of wood engraving. Greer went straight on to be a teacher after 34 years, taking early retirement in 1992. At last, he had the freedom to be a full-time artist. But his job at the well-equipped St Andrews High School, Clydebank, in the 1970s, gave him a new medium – enamelling.

I had never seen these beautiful enamel landscape plaques before, throbbing with colour, fluid and subtle. Released from the restraint of linear black and white, Greer progressed to a series of experimental mixed-media paintings of Glasgow tenements. These panels of subtle colour punctuate this well-installed exhibition, which contains over 200 works.

James Greer Saturday. View of Dumgoyne
James Greer Saturday. View of Dumgoyne

But Greer was soon back with his first love of printmaking coupled with a new job and enthusiasm – life drawing. He set up a Friday afternoon group above Glasgow Print Studio in 1993. Usually 15-20 folk. He remained involved in its running for the next 25 years. This continued access to the life model played a key role in his work up to the present day. Remember, artists never retire!

Greer’s superb nude figures begin early with ‘Townhead Venus’ 1962, then ‘Suzanna and the Elders’. Some pose demurely as in ‘King Street Life Class’ the Tron steeple glimpsed through the window, or “Gardener” 1970, where French windows show a busy guy with a spade. But more often, Greer’s ‘Tartan Lovers’ indulge in a roll in the hay, limbs entwined in ways even the Japanese might envy. The impressive red/yellow series dates from the late 1990s/2000s.

What a terrific way to chronicle your ebullient family life over 70 years! What great humour, fun and love is contained in so little space. I trust some of these historic prints find their way into Scottish museums.

James Greer –  Lillie Gallery – Milngavie until October 28

Read More