ALISON McWhirter’s paintings have achieved global recognition, attracting a devoted following of private collectors while gaining admiration of artists and art critics alike.
But a decade ago, things were very different.
Then, she was working in teaching and publishing when her terminally ill father told her: “You’re a painter, you’ve always wanted to be a painter. So be a painter.”
Alison, who grew up in Newbridge, Dumfries, followed his advice, and has just held a solo exhibition ‘Summer Palette’, at the Annan Gallery in Glasgow – the city she moved to in 2013 to pursue her dreams of becoming an artist.
“When I left art school, I was ill equipped to become a full-time artist. I didn’t have the mental agility, resources, confidence, or the skills required, to make it as an artist,” she said.
“My dad started the seeds germinating. I remember sitting with him in the hospice and showing some images from the first gallery I was working with, and I saw him gently smiling. He would be very proud if he could see me today. I am certain my dad has come back as a sunflower as they appear in so many of my paintings.”
Her father’s death was the start of “so much loss” for Alison, who also suddenly lost her brother from a brain haemorrhage.
Painting helped her cope and she said: “Grief is not linear, and everyone has had those difficult moments to deal with but for me, a daily painting practice has given my life substance and meaning.”
As an artist well-known at home and abroad, Alison believes the latest exhibition comes as she enters the next phase of her career.
She said: “I feel like I’m just at the beginning again. It’s emboldening to have become the confident artist I knew I could be. When I started out, I was anxious, I was naive, and it was a struggle. I’m in a much stronger position now better able to eliminate self-doubt, ignore negativity and embrace the solitude of the craft.”
A graduate of the prestigious Bath Spa Academy, Alison has also shown her work in New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
And she is keen to replicate the kindness shown to her, saying: “I mentor young artists. It’s so tough to make a living while being true to your art.
“So many artists become demotivated, despondent, and depressed in their 20s and 30s. These are vibrant, creative, intelligent, and wonderful human beings, but they don’t have the openings.
“We must have a much more glorious perspective about what art is, what it does for our culture and how important and enriching it is. It’s as important as any corporate job, but it’s not recognised in that way.
“Art is often viewed as a hobby, but it can be a very fulfilling career.”