Obituary: James Howie, painter and dancer

James Howie, painter and dancer. Born: 30 November, 1931, in Dundee. Died: 2 July, 2011, aged 79.

The first time I met Jimmy Howie was at one of those ridiculous Edinburgh Festival parties where all the actors and artists were re-inventing themselves to perceived market needs. Everyone, that is, except Jimmy Howie, who was determined to talk about fish and had a profound hatred of self-serving hype.

He was a tall, angular man, immensely fit with a ready smile, and a body so lean that there was a popular tale that he was once (innocent of any crime) chased round a room by a police dog who couldn't find a scrap of flesh to get its teeth into.

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Jimmy said he loved fish and had spent some of his happiest days living in a hut where the fishermen would give him fish so beautiful that he could scarcely bring himself to eat them.

He told me how he loved that lifestyle, the open air, the views and colours that you could almost taste. His love for Scotland was infectious.

Suddenly he launched into this beautiful fish dance and everyone gathered around and grinned. He was famed for his dancing. It was wonderful. He was also famed for his painting.

When in 1982 the renowned Glasgow artic critic Denys Sutton was invited to choose the finest 25 painters of the 20th century his choice included Augustus John, Graham Sutherland, Francis Bacon and a comparatively unknown Dundonian, Jimmy Howie, who eschewed the conventional art scene and often sold his works for knock-down prices just to meet his bills.

Later that year John Schlesinger made a television programme about him in which Howie explored his attitude and relative lack of commercial success: "Either one paints as a vocation or as a career, it is probably impossible to mix the two."

Howie was later offered and refused a chair in a leading Scottish art college on the grounds that the teaching would interfere with his painting.

Jimmy Howie was born in Dundee in 1931, the son of a printer at DC Thomson, and he loved the city dearly. He attended the Harris Academy and then the city's college of art, where he concentrated on learning complex techniques in glazing.

After two years of national service, latterly as a sergeant running an educational facility in Liverpool, he spent time in Ibiza and then in an advertising agency in Jamaica and worked for a while as a gesso boy - preparing canvases with glue and chalk - in London, learning in particular the art of canvas stretching and frame making.

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He perfected his style in 1983 when he spent a year on the waterless Spanish island of Formentera where he mixed his own paints, made his own gesso from rabbit skin and chalk and experimented with traditional glazes.

His signature works were large canvases with colours drawn from the soft pallet of the semi-wilderness but often with large dark areas for contrast.Some termed these works gloomy and introspective but their ambers often glowed and their greens shone and others felt that they seemed to turn up the volume on life itself.

Such works sold well. He was widely praised by many and would usually hold one show a year, though he only produced around half a dozen works a year, and refused to play the "art game". He was happier sitting in his studio in Dundee listening to a test match as he reworked, yet again, one of his masterpieces, than being out at art parties and never made nearly as much money as he might have.

Howie was never part of the art establishment, his semi figurative works being sometimes dismissed as simplistic but it bothered him not a whit. He made no pretence of his almost biological need to paint, and more than once compared it to his other great need - to dance.

But Jimmy was no mere unworldly artist for he was well read and politically aware and, although naturally cheerful, he was furious at some of the art initiatives that came to Dundee due to what he once termed the "dodgy men in silly glasses sent to put us right".

He was feared as an efficient operator in the wild jungle of art politics, once famously dismissing a subsidised Dundee gallery with a busy bar as being: "The only gallery in the country where they have to employ bouncers."

Jim loved to dance and could often be found dancing in Dundee nightspots. Indeed, he gained such a reputation for it that the legendary Dundonian songwriter Michael Marra once included a reference to his dancing in a popular local ballad.

"She said she'd never felt so happy in a long long time.

"Her mind was relaxed and her body felt fine.

"She said, 'Put on, Perdido. Tonight's the night.

'I want to dance with Jimmy Howie in the pale moonlight'."

(Frida Kahlo's Visit To The Taybridge Bar.)

He was still dancing three weeks before his death, aged 79.

He is survived by his wife Joyce, their two daughters, Jacky and Selina, and their two granddaughters.

He was truly a darling man; his family and friends will doubtless always miss him.

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