The contemporary Scottish art scene is thriving, with our leading artists like Gerald Burns, Elaine Woo, Peter Howson, Lois Carson, John Bellany, Alison Watt, Jack Vettriano and Alex Cooper all finding their work hanging in the world's most prestigious galleries, fetching stunning sums at auction (Sotheby's sold Vettriano's 'The Singing Butler' for £748,000), and being snapped up by celebrity collectors like Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Terence Conran and Tim Rice.
Born in the fishing village of Port Seton in East Lothian, John Bellany chose to take a very different path from that of the generations of fishermen before him when he enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art in the late 1950s. Bellany has produced an extraordinary body of work, including large scale paintings using his trademark mythological-figurative style, often focusing on strange half-human half-animal forms, as well as many acclaimed watercolour portraits. Bellany's work now hangs in prestigious museums and galleries all over the world, including the National Galleries of Scotland, Tate Britain and in New York, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The multi-talented John Byrne was born in 1940 and brought up in Ferguslie Park housing scheme. He was accepted by Glasgow School of Art but after graduating had to take a dead-end job at a carpet factory to make ends meet. Byrne re-invented himself as 'Patrick', a supposedly self-taught painter of faux-naif images. 'Patrick' was a great success and his pictures appeared on record covers for The Beatles, among others. Despite the lure of international fame and fortune, Byrne continues to live in his native Scotland, along with his wife and sometime collaborator, actress Tilda Swinton.
Entirely self-taught, Vettriano, now 53, is a Fife-born miner's son, who followed his father into the pit until he was given a paintbox on his 21st birthday and began copying the Impressionists and Old Masters. The country's most commercially successful artist, his most famous picture is 'The Singing Butler' (prints of which outsell those by Van Gogh or Monet) – Sothebys recently sold the original for a record £748,000 in Edinburgh. Never fully accepted by the art establishment, celebrities such as Jack Nicholson and Terence Conran are among his collectors.
Peter Howson is a central figure in the so-called New Glasgow Boys movement of the 1980s, a collection of like-minded painters which includes Ken Currie and Stephen Campbell. An ex-steel fitter, Howson began training at Glasgow School of Art. Working as a nightclub bouncer, he became intrigued by this shadowy, violent world. He now has a star-studded list of devotees including Madonna, David Bowie and Bob Dylan.
For those who are not yet established artists Scotland is one of the best proving grounds in the world: Whether it's abstract or painted in oils, Scotland's Art Schools have been producing world class artists for centuries.