Scottish Contemporary artist George Birrell was born and brought up in the west end of Glasgow. George trained at the Glasgow School of Art from 1967 to 1971 and, after graduating, went on to teach art and design in Scottish schools for the next decade, before turning to paint full time in 1980.

George became fascinated by the small fishing villages, after visiting the East Neuk of Fife, at the age of fifteen. Hooked, George continued to revisit these villages and is well known for his characteristic interpretations of their architecture, alleys and harbours. None of the places that he paints actually exist, but instead his paintings are created from different memories pulled together into one piece.

George exhibits in galleries throughout the UK. He has a solo exhibition of his recent work, taking place at Fidra Fine Art this August.

Why art?

I discovered art at around the age of 13. I was finding it hard to adjust to life at secondary school and was give the option of science, music or art. I was hopeless at maths, the music teacher was a harridan – which left art! I found I actually did well at art and it gave me the self esteem I was lacking.  

Who is your favourite artist?

My all-time favourite artist is Rembrandt. He is the most wonderful handler of oil paint and when he paints a person, he paints their soul and not just the surface of their face. You really see into the person’s soul with a Rembrandt portrait.

Rembrandt’s work is very dark – whereas your paintings use a much brighter colour palette?

I think my work is bright in reaction to the Scottish climate! It’s a northern European thing – the further north you go the less light there is. This has a bearing on the way you feel, so I combat it with bright exaggerated colour. I love playing games with colour and enhancing its intensity.

What work of art do you wish you owned?

Rembrandt’s self portrait which is hanging in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, In Edinburgh. It was painted just before his death. He was destitute and there is a simple honesty in the painting. I think it is the most honest self portrait ever painted.

If you had not become an artist, what career would you have pursued?

Anything to do with speed! A Rally Driver. I used to co-drive a rally car. It was an incredibly powerful feeling – one that could take you out of yourself completely.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

I was advised by my parents to get a teaching qualification as a fall-back career.  Although I enjoyed teaching, I wished I’d just taken the plunge and made my living by solely painting.

Favourite or most inspirational place?

I fell in love with the East Neuk of Fife at the age of 15, so much so that I did not travel abroad until I was 40.  Even though I am from Glasgow, I love the east coast of Scotland. The east is far more colourful and gives me a chance to use bright colours. Although I live in and love East Lothian, I’ve never really painted it, but there are definitely parts of it that appear in my paintings.

What is the one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

I am a compete petrol-head! I adore driving, fast cars and speed. My wife and I go abroad every summer to watch speedway racing.

What would you do if you were given £10 million today?

I’d be incredibly upset – it’s a terrible responsibility to be in charge of all that money! But, I’d buy an old castle and restore it with integrity, back to its original condition.

FIDRA FINE ART | 7-8 Stanley Road, Gullane EH31 2AD |