Fleet Gallery

Fleet Gallery

20th Century British Art



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Oil on canvas.

Painter in Oil on canvas, mixed media.

Colin Thoms, artist, teacher; born August 2, 1912, died April 20, 1997

RATHER like Peploe's discovery of Cezanne or Philipson's of Kokoschka, Colin Thoms's excitement at seeing the Miro exhibition in the Tate in 1963 was to change his work irrevocably.

Though he had then been teaching at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen for some 12 years (he taught at Gray's from 1951 to 1976 after some years as a schoolteacher in Musselburgh's Loretto School and then war service in the Army in which he was badly wounded), Thoms changed his painterly direction considerably.

He was by then already a well-known figure in British art circles. During his war years he had already been influenced by Paul Klee but it was the Spanish painter Joan Miro who was to change all for him, and in common with many, indeed most, Scottish painters, it was ever to European painting that Thoms looked for his inspiration. Thoms even admitted as much, claiming that the Miro Exhibition at the Tate was similar to Peploe's ''discovery of Cezanne 60 years ago''.

Certainly Colin Thoms was a painter much in the tradition of the Scottish Colourists and was a school friend of Peploe's sons: he even became a pupil of the Great Scottish Colourist at Edinburgh College of Art from 1929 to 1933. One of a generation of Scottish artists who moved easily to abstraction, he always worked with high and brilliant colour and had a splendid sense of near collage, enjoying symbols like moons and crescent shapes, fish figures, birds,and almost surreal and dream-like figurations.

The faintly naive appearance to these images was always conducted with a painterly style which showed his Colourist origins. In fact in his later years he worked regularly at the Edinburgh Printers' Workshop on collage as well as prints and lithographs. also in a highly colourful palette.

Certainly his influence on a later generation of painters was there. Largely because he was based in the, considered then, provincial Aberdeen art college, he had much influence on painters who rather rebuked the orthodoxies of both Glasgow and Edinburgh and, indeed, Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee had for many years an aesthetic link-up, through Neil Dallas Brown's friendship, with Gray's and much of that was surely due to Thoms's work as a teacher.

That provincialism has been good in recent years in both Aberdeen and Dundee, but it has to be said that it was always there, save that it was hardly provincial and artists such as Alan Davie, or when one thinks about it, Elizabeth Blackadder and others, were influenced by the works which Thoms regularly exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy for many years.

It is said by many that he, in common with many artists, was hampered by teaching commitments but this is more said by art critics than by working artists who know that teaching is both a financial necessity for most and often a source of pleasure as well. Certainly his many pupils - and it could be said that he never really stopped teaching in a way after 25 years at Aberdeen - would agree that he was a fine teacher with a sense of self-parody which occasionally in his later years entered his work as well.

From a remarkably artistic family - his wife Anne Whyte is the former film critic, his two brothers, Patrick and Kenneth, painters who exhibited regularly, and his son and two daughters are active in the visual arts, Colin Thoms had a wide-ranging number of friends in the canon of Scottish art, from William Gillies, an early influence in the 1930s, to Anne Redpath, and many more.

But as well as that, though he moved back to his native Edinburgh in 1990, he had many friends in Aberdeen for which city he argued cogently - he was a founder member and early chairman of the Aberdeen Civic Trust. Working those years in Aberdeen, and Edinburgh, he even died in Glasgow and his connections with Orkney were strong: he was ever a Scot. But above all, a European artist, like so many Scottish painters of his time and still to come.