Davy Macdonald’s feminine views of Edinburgh

EDINBURGH’S stunning landscape – from the glorious Castle to the Scott Monument and beyond – is, as everyone knows, picture perfect.
Davy Macdonald poses with his painting The Letter. Picture: Scott LoudenDavy Macdonald poses with his painting The Letter. Picture: Scott Louden
Davy Macdonald poses with his painting The Letter. Picture: Scott Louden

But when it came to capturing the familiar scenes on canvas, artist Davy Macdonald felt he’d viewed every building from every angle dozens of times before.

Now, however, he’s put his unique spin on some very familiar views, with a series of striking paintings that capture the timeless beauty of the city as a backdrop to intriguing contemporary portraits of women.

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In them, his wistful models are captured in slinky frocks clutching champagne flutes and nibbling on berries in front of the ornate Ross Fountain in Princes Street Gardens, and in another, a model in colourful off-the-shoulder, thigh-high shift dress devours pages from Ivanhoe in the shadow of the Scott Monument.

In one, his pretty brunette models have set up a sophisticated picnic on Calton Hill, with a silver table laden with a bottle of fizz, glass bowl of mixed berries and a gentle breeze blowing through their hair without a single goosebump in sight.

The paintings, says Davy, 49, are his take on combining Edinburgh’s heritage with his particular figurative narrative style. “I must have seen about a thousand paintings of Edinburgh Castle but nothing that was figurative or narrative,” he says. “I wanted a combination of everything ... the result is three paintings in one.”

The series of paintings – called Aspects of Edinburgh and now on show at Dundas Street Gallery – was created after he’d worked on two heritage-themed art projects that had left him immersed in times gone by. It prompted him to look closer to home for inspiration.

“I wanted to look at what is on our own doorstep, all the iconic things that we take from granted every day, which are all around us but to which we’ve become desensitised because they’re so familiar.

“Tourists come to Edinburgh and they all say ‘Wow, look at that’, and we just shrug as say ‘Aye, I’ve seen it’. I wanted to reconnect with all this local iconic architecture.”

To create the paintings, however, Davy had to set up an outdoor studio, lugging everything he needed for his models to strike their poses so he could sketch them. “First of all, the image comes from my mind’s eye and then I go out and try to do some sketching. Then I take everything on location.

“So for the Calton Hill painting, I was lugging tables, chairs and bottles of champagne up Calton Hill. There were a few strange looks and people asking what I was doing,” he says with a laugh.

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That, however, was nothing compared to the looks he got when he ventured to Roslin Glen with a nude model to pose for an earlier series of more risque paintings. “The dog walkers and hikers loved it though,” he says.

All of which is a long way from Davy’s first venture into the world of art when he was a teenager and his parents gave him a set of oil paints for Christmas.

“I was around 18 and had never been into art,” explains the dad of two, who lives with wife Gail, a nursery nurse, in Orchard Road. “They gave me the oil paints, I went upstairs and a few hours later came back down with a painting. The whole family just sat there and said ‘where did that come from? I had never really drawn or painted until then.”

He signed up for evening classes at Edinburgh College of Art, only to find himself in his first life drawing class a couple of feet away from a nude model. “It was horrendous,” he says. “I was sitting right at the front, I’d never drawn or painted in front of anyone before and the entire class was behind me while in front of me was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”

His road to becoming a professional artist has distinct similarities with that of another famous Scottish painter whose work, not unlike Davy’s latest series, features glamorous women in intriguing poses. Like Jack Vettriano, Davy is mostly self taught, and he eventually quit his day job working in IT to concentrate on painting.

But it’s there the similarities end: “I love Jack Vettriano’s story and his fight against the art establishment, but we are very different,” insists Davy, whose original paintings sell from £800 up to £4500 – limited edition prints cost £150.

He is now preparing a new series of paintings, this time drawing on Edinburgh’s stunning gothic inspired architectural heritage. “That series will be much darker,” he hints. “Think Scottish Widows, women in cloaks and places like St Mary’s Cathedral, St Giles and Fettes.”

n Aspects of Edinburgh is on show at Dundas Street Gallery. For more information, go to www.dmacart.com.