Darren Woodhead on Christine Woodside

The artist Darren Woodhead was hastening down The Mound steps on Saturday, en route to the Royal Scottish Academy building.

Darren is a considerable watercolourist and naturalist – an observer of birds, rather than a bird-watcher – who paints birds in particular, and country life, with remarkable skill, as noted on his website here . I got to spend half a day with him once, as he painted on the banks of the Esk River.

His career has rightly been on an upward trajectory over the last decade – as have his prices. Even his largest watercolours could be had for under £1,000 a few years back, in the day when just a few enthusiasts collected, and Darren plied the summer trade as a caricaturist on the Royal Mile; these days they cost more like four times that. He was on his way to the RSW open exhibition, now closed, where his picture Fieldfare among Elder and Blackthorn had earned a red dot at £5,500.

Darren Woodhead Fieldfare among elder and buckthorn RSW

Fieldfare among elder and buckthorn

This image doesn’t do it justice. (My camera can sneak a pinky tinge into white rooms.) Darren paints always from life, in the outdoors, capturing birds on the wing; the results are extraordinary. It was clear he had put special effort into the picture. At the RSW show, which ended on January 31st, it was one of several works chosen to inspire a poem, which he was to hear read out.

“In Gullane at the moment as soon as the haws grow, the fieldfares tend to head for the buckthorn, because they have a really high concentration of vitamin C,” Darren said. “So if you go and sit among the buckthorn, you’ll be able to hear this chatting, ch-ch-chk-chk, it’s just full of fieldfares, and it will hold them until March, April. I love the elders themselves, the tangles and twists and the gnarls. The spikey buckthorn is really oriental, so you have clashes of oriental, against this very British gnarled tree.”

In that trivial journalistic way, curious what artists see in a way that a critic can’t, I asked Darren to make a snap judgement on a painting in the RSW show – fronted by four Alan Davies at the top of the steps – which stood out as an instant favourite.

In a few minutes wandering with his birdwatcher’s eye, from across the main room he picked out Snowfields, Fife, by Christine Woodside.

Christine Woodside artist RSW

Snowfields, Fife, by Christine Woodside

“It’s very raw,” he said. “It has a very nice energy to it.” We took it for the Borders at first, but the sloping winter light of rural Fife, where Woodside makes her home, according to her entry at the Open Eye Gallery.

Snowfields, a large work, was priced at £8,500. A second smaller piece, Winter Sun, Fife, at £1,750 won the City of Glasgow College Award in the show.

Winter Sun, Fife, Christine Woodside artist, Open Eye, RSW

Winter Sun, Fife, by Christine Woodside

A few years I remember being told by a gallery that Darren ‘wasn’t the kind of artist’ they showed – not ticking the complicated more contemporary boxes. That was a mistake.

“I’ve been working on owls recently, I found a nice roost of long-earned owls,” Darren said.

He singled out a small work hanging next to his own, by John Busby – a veteran, he noted, in his 80s.

Awaiting artist...

John Busby

“John has been a huge inspiration to me. He has got a really nice approach, he is based around natural history, this is one of his rock pools. He’s got a lightness, an energy, a deftness. He has a wonderful oil rockpool on his living room wall. John’s amazing.”

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