Don’t miss the amazing exhibition by renowned artist Dennis McCallum at the Castle Douglas Art Gallery until Sunday, August 23.
Here it is again. It is 50 years since Herr Everard, the six foot tall, German born headmaster, who struck fear into every student at St. Joseph’s College in Dumfries, leaned forward in his leather armchair and fixed the trembling schoolboy Dennis McCallum with a “look”. He had just scanned through Dennis’s various science exercise books which he had been requested to bring with him to the headmaster’s study for the unannounced yearly appraisal.
“Not at all good.” was a brusque statement and not a question from “Big Ev”. “And who is your biology teacher?” he asked with a sigh. This was a difficult question as all the boys knew him as “Harry the Weasel” and his real name, at that moment, totally escaped Dennis’s memory. The unanswered silence stretched for what seemed like years until a, by now, very weary Big Ev flicked through the jotters once again and his attention was caught by the doodles that the uninterested student had scribbled in their back pages . Gathering them together he dropped the lot in his waste paper basket, “Drop science and go and see the new art teacher about taking that up instead.” was his exasperated instruction.
And so Dennis McCallum was unleashed on an art world that he fell in love with. The only problem now was that, although he had a talent for drawing, his paintings were inexplicably poor. It was not clear why until one day when he was painting a still life involving a Chianti bottle (empty) and the finishing of the painting was interrupted by bell signalling the break. After the break, Miss Thompson, his art teacher, studied the now completed bottle and her simple question to him was “Why paint the top half of the bottle green and the bottom brown?” The hapless Dennis had no idea what she was talking about but he was soon to find out that he was a “Daltonian”, a person who is red green colour blind. After this discovery and with her help he was nevertheless able to scrape through as far as gaining an A level in art.
His further education choice of art college was sadly impractical as, in those days, most graduates were funnelled into teaching jobs and how could he possibly teach others the use of colour? However, his second love was hillwalking and he trained as a surveyor with the Ordnance Survey and was lucky enough to be involved in the resurvey of the beautiful Kirkcudbrightshire countryside and coastline.
He ventured back into the art world once again when he married and his wife Frances mixed watercolour paints for him which he washed over his detailed drawings. The first paintings were mainly of injured birds, owls in particular, which he was involved in rehabilitating back to the wild. The Department of the Environment granted him the special licence for this work which he carried out for a number of years from his countryside cottage mid-way between Beeswing and New Abbey.
At one point an optician in Dumfries offered hope with the correction of his colour vision. It came from America where “Daltonians” had been provided with a single red contact lens to wear in one eye. The optician coloured one lens of an old pair of spectacles red leaving the other clear, just for Dennis to try as an experiment - and it worked!
However, after fifty years of seeing the world one way it was so disconcerting for Dennis to see it completely differently that he went back once again to what he knew and was happily familiar with.
However, art never stands still and the scope of his pictures was extended once again when he discovered watercolour pencils. With them the colour was not such a problem as each pencil has its colour name marked on it. From his first attempt at a sunset (a safe subject colour-wise) he now embraces everything that was denied to him for so many years, 50 years to be precise!
At Castle Douglas Art Gallery his exhibition “A Celebration of Painting Galloway” will be on show from 13 to 24 August and will feature a large range of works consisting mainly of Galloway scenery and wildlife.