Obituary: John Nelson, artist and lecturer, 79

Artist and lecturer John Nelson. Picture: comp
Artist and lecturer John Nelson. Picture: comp
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John Nelson, artist, lecturer and first artistic director of Craigmillar Festival Society, has died, aged 79.

As a successful modern Scottish colourist, his vibrant paintings have been exhibited from Europe to Australia and the United States and his work hangs in private and public collections around the world.

The son of a slater’s labourer, he was born on August 26, 1933, at Harewood Road in Edinburgh’s Craigmillar estate, the eldest of five children.

As a boy he was always drawing and while he was still at primary school his talent was spotted by a teacher who visited his home to try to encourage his parents to foster his artistic ability. But by the age of 15 he had left school and taken a job on the railway. Unhappy there, he approached his father’s employer for work and began learning a trade. He completed his national service and returned to work as a slater and plasterer.

Now in his late 20s and married with a young daughter, he was working on a building when chatting to an art teacher, who was working alongside him, labouring during the holidays, he decided to give up his job and go to art school. He enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art in 1962, and over the next few years was awarded a number of painting and drawing prizes.

After graduation, a travelling scholarship took him to France, the Netherlands and Belgium, creating the basis for exhibitions in these three countries.

He then took a teacher training course at Moray House School of Education and worked in several schools, including Daniel Stewart’s College, before becoming an art lecturer at the then fledgling Stevenson College. He remained at the college for 25 years, inspiring generations of students.

During that time he was constantly producing his own work, becoming a member of the Glasgow League of Artists, which he served as chairman in 1975-76, exhibiting throughout the 1970s and 1980s at home and abroad, at venues including expositions in Paris and Japan, and organising travelling exhibitions.

He also chaired Livingston Art Foundation, was the first artistic director of Craigmillar Festival Society where he worked closely with one of its founders, the late Helen Crummy, undertook commissions and appeared in a couple of films on the art world. In 1996 he took early retirement to concentrate on his own paintings.

He was widowed by his first wife, and a second marriage ended in divorce but he found renewed happiness after retiring when he met his third wife, Ginni. They married in 2002 and spent ten years in Selkirk where he had a studio and gallery. Last autumn they moved to Pittenweem where he continued to develop his work .

He is survived by his wife, daughter Linda, brother Dennis, sister June and extended step-family.