Brian Keany

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BRIAN KEANY, RSW, DA (Edin) Artist and teacher

Born: 16 January, 1945, in Forfar. Died: 7 February, 2007, in Dundee, aged 62.

BRIAN Keany was a shining light on the Scottish contemporary art scene for over 30 years. An expert in the use of paint in all mediums and a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour, his work hangs in galleries and private collections worldwide.

Born in Forfar in 1945, Keany grew up in Brechin. An early enthusiasm for academia displayed itself and he was awarded the Dux of Damacre Primary School.

In his youth, he developed a passion for history and planned to continue his studies into university. However, fate intervened in the shape of the charismatic art master of Brechin High School, Robert Hardie Condie, RSW, who recognised and fostered Keany's meticulous artistic skill and dedication.

Keany applied and was accepted by Edinburgh College of Art in 1963. He was fortunate enough to attend during what was arguably its heyday. During his years in Edinburgh, he won numerous prizes, and studied under the likes of Sir William Gillies, John Houston, Elizabeth Blackadder and Sir Robin Philipson.

After he graduated from Edinburgh College of Art, he went to Moray House College of Education where, after a 16-day courtship, he proposed to fellow student, Trina Herd, also a graduate of the art college. They were married in Trina's home town of Lochgelly less than three years later, and were never apart for the rest of his life.

It had always been Keany's intention to pursue a teaching career after graduation. As is the case now, skilled teachers were in very short supply in late 1960s Scotland, and he quickly found a post in 1968 as a junior art teacher at St Andrews High School, in Kirkcaldy. His obvious skill, rapport and strong sense of discipline was quickly recognised by the department of education in Fife and he was promoted to principal teacher of guidance in 1972, at the comparatively young age of 27.

Although widely recognised for his work in Scottish contemporary art, Keany believed that his teaching and work with the children at St Andrews formed the greatest achievement in his professional life. He used to wow fresh-faced pupils at the school with an impressive and daunting display of technique, which involved taking a pencil in each hand, and simultaneously drawing two different sketches. Keany continued to teach there until taking early retirement in 2001.

Keany was always fascinated by the skills and techniques of painting. When he left art college, he was very influenced by the likes of Nicolas de Stal and Willem de Kooning, and Keany produced a number of semi-abstract works. However, he became concerned that he was not fully employing the skills he had developed, and he began to look closely at the works of the great Dutch masters, in particular Willem Kalf.

He was also an avid student in the technique of painting and the old techniques as taught by Max Doerner. Keany was as passionate about the use of materials and the skills involved in producing art, as he was in the end result.

Early in his career, at a Fife art teachers' exhibition in Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline, his skills were spotted by (the now late) Jimmy Mowatt, owner of the Loomshop Gallery in Lower Largo. In 1976, Mowat, who became a lifelong friend, offered Keany his first one-man show. Many one-man exhibitions in the Loomshop followed over the years.

In 1977, Keany was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour. He was equally at home producing paintings in oils. Keany was also commissioned to design a large tapestry for the Dunfermline Carnegie Trust, in Fife. The tapestry is now permanently on display in Dunfermline.

Keany exhibited in a number of group shows at galleries across Scotland, including Colours Gallery and the Torrance Gallery in Edinburgh, Roger Billcliffe Fine Art in Glasgow, the Aberfeldy Gallery, the Jerdan Gallery in Crail and the Stenton Gallery. He exhibited regularly in the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, and annually in the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour, where he twice served on the council.

His subject matter was diverse. He painted still life, maritime scenes and Scottish and French landscapes. His work now hangs in collections in the United Knigdom, the United States, South Africa, Eire, The Netherlands and Australia.

Willie Fulton, a close friend and contemporary at Edinburgh College of Art, described Keany as a deeply committed artist: "His draughtsmanship was extraordinary. As a young man, his use of line and tone, coupled with a superb sense of composition, produced work of deep knowledge and beauty. The drawing skills and the work he produced then was born of sheer hard work and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of art.

"We shared a mutual love of art as it related to life. He was not a man for the great gesture, nor did he desire celebrity, which might be considered the hallmark of success in today's art world. He just quietly got on with it in his own self-contained way and his work is the measure of a man who loved life, sought his own answers and found many of them.

"In our conversations over the last year, I was in awe as he ignored his condition, carried on with daily life, even preparing work for a Christmas gallery show. He rebuked me when I dared broach the subject of his illness, when he said, 'Some people get on the train, some people get off. Now you just crack on with life'."

Keany was diagnosed with cancer in April last year. He fought the illness with great dignity and determination. He is survived by his wife, Trina, three children and three grandchildren.