Obituary: Barbara Balmer, Scottish artist

On New Year’s Eve the Artist Barbara Balmer died at the age of 88, her 65th Wedding Anniversary with the artist/designer George Mackie.

On New Year’s Eve the Artist Barbara Balmer died at the age of 88, her 65th Wedding Anniversary with the artist/designer George Mackie.

A remarkable talent, her work was highly individual and although she was interested in the work of the early Italian primitives, Stanley Spencer, Giorgio Morandi and the Edinburgh romantic Cecile Walton, her unique visual vocabulary could not be attributed to any individual school of painting. She had an admirable work ethic and a truly unique way of seeing; her use of subtle and graded tones combined with a strong element of pattern and shape to culminate in the geometry of form that became her hallmark.

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Born in Birmingham in 1929, Barbara studied at both Coventry and Edinburgh Colleges of Art.

She won a travelling scholarship to Spain and experienced an inspirational trip to Italy in a group led by Douglas Percy Bliss. Her outgoing personality was highly infectious and she would not think twice about approaching complete strangers to ask if she could paint their portrait. Throughout her long career, spanning more than five decades, she was twice selected to exhibit at the John Moores exhibition in Liverpool, and had solo shows at the Richard Demarco Gallery and the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh, the Scottish Arts Council Touring Exhibitions and currently at the Fine Art Society in Edinburgh.

Barbara taught at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen between 1970 and 1980 and held a retrospective exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery which travelled to Dundee, Lincoln and Coventry. Her work is included in many public and private collections including, The Royal Collection, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Portrait of Richard Demarco), The City Art Centre, Edinburgh, Leicester City Museum, Aberdeen and Stirling Universities, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Birmingham, Perth, Dundee and Lincoln Art Galleries. Seven of her paintings were used as dust jackets by Virago for the Modern Classics series and she was an elected member of the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Glasgow Institute and the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour.

The words of the late art critic W Gordon Smith beautifully sum up Barbara Balmer’s poetic sensibilities:

“Pictorialist, stylist, classicist, modernist. She is all of these things and more. Instantly identifiable at 50 yards. Gentle like a dove. Feminine, if the expression is excusable, but tough in discipline, draughtsmanship and the sense of the fitness of things she brings together.

“I am reminded of Saladin’s scimitar scything silk. Landscape and interiors veiled in pink and lilac mist. Skies showering confetti instead of snow. Breezes are zephyrs. Beds invite the rapture of sleep. Intimate portraits beguile. She is sorcerer and illusionist, yet the world she makes is real.”

Barbara Balmer is survived by her husband George Mackie, daughters Ruth and Rachel, granddaughters Clara and Emily and great-granddaughters Indie and Minnie.

Tom and Pam Wilson