Oscar Goodall was a fighter in both a literal and a figurative sense. As a senior day pupil at Perth Academy, and excelling in a variety of sports, including cricket, he was, on this occasion bowled out for one. It was a rare defeat but the decision that followed was to profoundly affect the entire course of his life.
It was 1941 and Oscar was 17 years old. On impulse, he decided to walk into town and sign up at the nearest recruiting station. He was initially accepted for pilot training but, because of bureaucratic delays, was offered a place to train as a rear gunner. The tail turret was the most important defensive position and carried the heaviest armament. This was also the most vulnerable role in the seven-man bomber crew, as the rear gunners, sitting ducks in their perspex bubbles, were the first to be targeted by German fighter pilots.
Such impulsiveness, energy and commitment characterised the way Goodall lived his life – whether it be as a painter, an educator, a husband, father or friend. Goodall was born in Hindmarsh, Adelaide, Australia in 1924, less than six years after the end of the first truly global conflict in world history; like many of his generation, this war and the one which was to follow it, indelibly marked their lives.
Goodall’s father, his namesake, Oscar Gilbert Goodall was an Australian, born in 1887. Enlisting in 1916, Oscar Gilbert fought at the Battle of the Somme, which ran from July to November of that year, where he was wounded on three occasions. Australian troops joined the battle at Pozières on 23 July 1916, suffering a staggering 23,000 casualties over a period of 42 days. It was as a result of these injuries that Oscar Gilbert was sent to Scotland to recuperate; here he stayed with the parents of Helen Imrie Dunn, whom he later married in 1919. The couple returned to Australia where they had two children, Gilbert and Elspeth; but, in 1924, while Helen was in her third pregnancy, Oscar Gilbert underwent an operation to remove shrapnel from his back. He never regained consciousness and so Oscar Ronald would never meet his father.
Helen returned to Scotland shortly after her husband’s death; here another tragedy befell her with the death of her father. The family was taken under the wing of the distiller, AK Bell (who was later to establish the Gannochy Trust, in Perth, in 1934) and given one of the houses on the Gannochy estate. Oscar Ronald was to personally benefit from Bell’s largesse, which included the purchase of sports equipment.
Goodall was to see extensive active service as gunner and he was involved in numerous sorties over enemy territory, earning him various medals and commendations, including the Bomber Command Medal, the Air Crew Europe Star, the Defence Medal, the France and Germany Star, the Veterans Medal and the Liberators of Holland Medal. The last was for service in Operation Manna which took place from 29 April to 7 May 1945 and involved Allied food drops over The Netherlands, which were still under occupation.
Goodall studied art at Dundee College (later named Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art) and did post-graduate work at Hospitalfield, near Arbroath. He was a talented student and rather quickly established a unique style, which at the same time, readily identified him as a Scottish "east coast” painter. The media that he used were predominantly oils, watercolours and ink but, later, he would often incorporate other materials, such as sand and cinders, into his compositions. Sometimes the paint was applied to the canvas by hand, like clay in the hands of a potter.
An early review, in 1949, of his first show of “29 watercolour drawings” at the Lamond Galleries, Dundee, noted Goodall’s pen-and-wash studies of Arbroath and Dundee and depictions of “…a trip to Paris in the summer of 1949… commemorated in ‘Paris Street – Les Invalides after Rain’. The reviewer noted another group of works “…more concerned with mood and design…” and noted his use of subtle greys in preference to brighter colours. These aspects of Goodall’s work were to be developed later, resulting in his election, in 1986, to the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour. He exhibited widely – at the Royal Scottish Academy, the Scottish Society of Artists and at The Scottish Gallery, in Edinburgh. At one point, he was approached by Tate Gallery but declined an offer to purchase his work. Later, in his 90s, he reflected on the London art world, “… I was taken on by a Cork Street Gallery…but I quickly found that London galleries could be corrupting …Besides English art did not cause me to lose sleep…in no way was I likely to change what I did to suit the money market…I collected my paintings having sold enough to pay for my rail fare, taxis and 2 nights’ accommodation…” ‘Thrawn’ is too harsh a term, but Goodall’s attitude to what he perceived as ‘the establishment’ was sceptical and tinged with wry humour.
Goodall’s style evolved to accommodate the complexity of his feelings around war and his reverence for nature. These two major themes were linked, because war had given him a sense of the value of human life but he was also despairing at humanity’s increasing willingness to destroy the planet. He carried the psychological trauma of witnessing intense violence and suffering at first-hand and this manifested itself time and time again in recurring imagery through the decades. His connection with nature was profound. His renditions of woodland, hills and rivers – in a variety of moods and seasons – were sublime, assured, deeply satisfying eulogies – and elegies – to the transcendent beauty of the Scottish landscape. This was nowhere more so than the countryside around his last home in Muthill, Perthshire, which he shared with his wife Jen Wyllie, who he had married in 1954, and with whom he lived until her death in 2019.
If art and nature were two of his passions, then a third was education. As well as teaching art in Trinity College, Glenalmond and Bell Baxter Academy in Fife he also taught deprived children in a variety of Central Scotland locations, later becoming Chairman of Scottish Advisors in Art & Design and Adviser in Art & Design Central Region Scotland. He was co-founder of the hugely successful Dollar School. In 2004, looking back on his work as an educator, and his war experiences, he noted, “…seeing destruction at first hand and long lines of displaced persons, with nothing but what they stood up in, I came to the view that young people should not be there to become cannon fodder, that education might be more important than we realised.”
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