Obituary: Eric Auld, artist and teacher

Born: 3 January, 1931 in Boddam, Aberdeenshire. Died: 24 December, 2013 in Aberdeen, aged 82

Artist Eric Auld. Picture: Contributed
Artist Eric Auld. Picture: Contributed

Eric Auld was not only one of the four renowned painters who put Aberdeen on the artistic map, he was also at the heart of an extended family with an inherent talent for painting. Both his parents were art students. His mother, who encouraged and sat for him, was sought after for her flowers studies and portraits, while his sister was a portrait painter and his nephew is the celebrated Scottish colourist Jack Morrocco.

Art was undoubtedly in his genes and Auld’s was expressed in a distinctive, instantly identifiable style. Much of his work centred around his home environment of Aberdeen and its surrounding countryside, where his imaginative treatment of land and cityscapes made him commercially popular, earning countless commissions from businesses as diverse as oil companies, a theatre, sheet metal firm and a golf club. Many of his pieces also hang in private and public collections across the globe, a reflection of the impression he and his three fellow art students made on the art world in the 1950s and 60s.

Together with Donald Buyers, Bill Baxter and Bill Ord, Auld made up the group known as ABBO – an acronym derived from the letters of their surnames – formed to promote their work. They held 14 exhibitions and were critically acclaimed. But with little funding, full-time teaching jobs and families to support, they went their separate ways after a decade.

Auld became the most commercially successful, reproducing hundreds of his most popular works, but possibly his favourite commission was a request to capture the history of the Gordon Highlanders for the regimental museum. Auld’s father, Alexander, a painter and decorator, had volunteered for the Gordons and was wounded at Ypres in 1917. His son portrayed him in the commission as a soldier in the trenches.

On his return from the Great War, Auld senior took a course at Gray’s School of Art, where he met his future wife – the talented art student Peggy Swanson. Eric Auld was born at Boddam, on the North-east coast, where they briefly ran a hotel. But he spent the rest of his life in Aberdeen, where they returned when he was just three months old, and where his father later went into the antiques trade, opening The Auld Curiosity Shop.

The youngster and his sister Rozelle, who went on to marry a younger brother of artist Alberto Morrocco, attended Mile End Primary, where his talent for drawing was encouraged. His first sketch in a classroom display apparently made quite an impact – featuring a horse that had just produced a large heap of dung on the street. Even then, he was closely observing his city.

He won a bursary for Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen where, due to his admiration for his Uncle Bill, a draughtsman at Vickers, and his own love of aircraft, he ignored art and took French instead, ostensibly so he could study aeronautics at university. But just weeks later, he realised his mistake and joined the art class.

In 1948, he went to Aberdeen’s Gray’s School of Art along with Baxter and Buyers – Ord had gone the previous year – where lecturers included Alberto Morrocco, Hugh Adam Crawford and Bob Sivell. His first one-man show of student work was in a room at the city’s Gaumont Cinema, which the manager had set up as a gallery.

At Gray’s, he gained the Davidson Gold Medal and at the end of his post-diploma year he was awarded the Robert Brough Travelling Scholarship, which took him to France, Italy and Spain. National service in the army at Catterick then curtailed his painting when he became a sergeant in the Education Corps, teaching map reading. A talented athlete, he also enjoyed basketball, swimming and water polo and ran a film society. As with everything he did, he tackled conscription with customary enthusiasm and was named best platoon recruit.

Returning to Aberdeen in 1957, a week later he married his wife Pat, whom he had known was the one for him since they first met at an art school party when she was just 16. The fledgling ABBO group first convened that same year and held its inaugural exhibition at the Gaumont that autumn.

All four artists were also teaching at this time – Auld at Rosemount School and later at Aberdeen Academy before becoming principal art teacher at the city’s Kincorth Academy – but it was a period of prolific output. They exhibited at Invercauld Estate on Deeside, Dundee and Glasgow to great acclaim; Auld’s work was once described by critic and caricaturist Emilio Coia as “brittle, prismatic brilliance”. More shows followed in Glasgow, Belgium and Birmingham and on their home turf at Aberdeen Art Gallery in 1965 before disbanding two years later. But Auld, whose favourite subject was Deeside, continued to be promoted by the Invercauld laird’s wife Mrs AAC Farquharson, who invited him to meet potential buyers from the United States.

His warmth, enthusiasm and informality often earned him a place as pupils’ favourite teacher and he relished nurturing and encouraging young talent long after retiring.

He gave up teaching in his mid-50s, determined to focus on life as a professional artist and began to concentrate more on cityscapes. He adored Aberdeen and as he explained to Baxter’s wife Rosemary Johnson, in her book Four Aberdeen Artists: “With much of my painting, I aim to celebrate a feature of city or country and use my own understanding of the local area.” That often meant obliterating a building he considered ugly or diminishing it to a single stroke, as he did with St Nicholas House, currently being demolished. In his unique composite images of Aberdeen, he took its best features and created unusual viewpoints, usually working in his favourite mediums of oils or oil pastels.

He had many of his key images reproduced: 500 copies of his first city composition, Aberdeen 1, sold within a year and more than 40 editions of other works followed. Commissions flowed in – the Ninian Central platform, works for the Bank of Scotland, Grampian Television and Aberdeen Harbour Board among them, all celebrating landmarks of the city. Yet he was rarely recognised by Aberdeen Artists Society, of which he was a member. However, his work was appreciated elsewhere – and he was rather tickled by the experience of having two of his works stolen during exhibitions in London and Scotland.

Beyond painting, Auld was a craftsman who enjoyed enamelling in copper, carving toys for his family and working in bronze, a skill he learned at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop and which produced a bronze of Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Burgess of the Guild of the City of Aberdeen, he was also a defender of Aberdeen’s heritage – he railed against plans to revamp the city’s art gallery, which he described as being tantamount to vandalism – and was a huge supporter of charity through donating his works, which have raised more than £100,000 for good causes, including Spinal Injuries Scotland.

His striking body of work spanned 60 years, as did his relationship with Pat ,with whom he had three daughters who considered him their dream dad: a modest but fun-loving man with an endless enthusiasm for everything in life.

Auld, whose funeral will be held on what would have been his 83rd birthday, is survived by his wife, daughters Fiona, Catriona and Deirdre, and six grandchildren.