Colin Wilson’s paintings often mistaken for photos

Coilin Wilson's work. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Coilin Wilson's work. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Have your say

THERE’S an unmistakable sheen on the paving stones of Princes Street, signifying a recent downpour, and the clouds above the Scott Monument and Balmoral Hotel, suggest another could be on the way.

The buses and taxis are lined up heading west and there’s an enthusiastic sign telling the public that the trams are coming. The picture could be a snapshot of Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare on any late winter day earlier this year.

But take a closer look, closer still. And perhaps you will be able to spot the tell-tale signs that this isn’t an airport bus-spotter’s photograph, but rather a portrait in acrylics, painted by the artist Colin Wilson.

Wilson is a hyper-realist artist. And his series of takes on Edinburgh street scenes is about to go on show at the Sutton Gallery in Dundas Street – where they will also be back on display during the Festival.

His work is so detailed, so precise, that it can easily be mistaken for photography. In his city pictures he even captures the chewing gum ground into the paving slabs on the Mound, the gleam of sunlight on cars, the individual leaves on a tree outside George Street’s Tempus bar and the reflections in a bus stop sign, advertising Singin’ In the Rain.

Wilson says: “If someone says it looks like a photo, well that always gives me a buzz. That’s the aim I guess. People think it looks like a snap, something which takes a second, when in fact it’s the work of around four weeks.”

Originally from Linlithgow but now living in Meadowbank, 25-year-old Wilson has been hailed as one to watch after being chosen to exhibit in the Royal Scottish Academy’s New Contemporaries exhibition 2011. His still lifes of apples and other fruit in bowls have sold well, as have his black and white portraits which reference old Hollywood movies. But the Duncan of Jordanstone graduate says landscapes proved to be a big challenge.

He says: “I always wanted to do landscapes. But for some reason I felt a bit shy about going out and about with a camera, but in Edinburgh no-one notices you doing that so moving here was my opportunity. Also I was a bit bored with painting apples, although I was always grateful that they sold well, so I thought I’d give myself a real challenge this year and give it a go. Edinburgh gives such a good mixture of people and interesting buildings, and I also love painting cars and buses if I’m honest.

“Cars are one of the best things to capture because of the sheen on the paint. It’s similar in a respect to painting people, when you have that light on their lips it brings the painting to life. It’s what light does, and cars have a particular light reflection because of their paintwork. One of the works has a sign saying the trams are coming, and I’ve not been out yet to see them, but perhaps that will be the next picture.”

He adds: “When I began the paintings I thought they were going to be too intricate, as there are some things, like chewing gum on the pavements, that you don’t notice until you start to paint them. Perhaps I should have cleaned up the streets a bit but it’s these scruffy bits that make them more real I think.”

Colin works by photographing the scenes he’s interested in and then sits with the image on the screen of his laptop, and “staring at it and comparing it to what I’m painting. There’s really no trick.”

It takes weeks to make sure every exact detail is replicated, from the bus registration plates to the folds in women’s shopping bags. Just getting the rain-slicked pavement on Princes Street perfectly ­accurate took him two days of painstaking brushstrokes.

Director at the Sutton Gallery, Reuben Sutton, says he’s delighted to show Colin’s work, which is increasingly popular in London, but rarely displayed in Scotland.

He says: “Colin Wilson’s works are so mind-bendingly accurate that you could be forgiven for mistaking them for photographs. However, when you look closely, his brush-work is simply breathtaking.”
Colin adds: “These are the first landscapes I’ve done so I don’t know how well they’ll do. I think the smaller ones are selling for £950, the larger for £1250. Times have been tough for artists during the ­recession, especially new names like me who sell for mid-market prices, but it’s picking up and people are spending on art again. But at the same time, not having that huge pressure of having to produce does give you more freedom to experiment.

“It’s great that my work has been picked up by a Dundas Street gallery, because that’s where you want to be in Edinburgh, and the Sutton Gallery is very fresh and interested in new, young artists and doesn’t just show artists who died 60 years ago.

“I hope it’s going to be successful, and I’m going to keep on painting my landscapes.”

• Colin Wilson’s works are available through The Sutton Gallery, 18a Dundas Street and by contacting Reuben Sutton on 07854 972930

High precision

HYPER-realism is a genre of painting and sculpture which creates the illusion that you’re looking at a photograph, and is seen as an off-shoot of photo-realism.

Developments in technology in cameras and other digital equipment has allowed artists to be ever more precise, and while photo-realist painters will imitate photo images but leave out certain details, hyper-real artists are more literal in their work.

American artists Chuck Close and Ralph Goings are linked with the style. Sculptor Ron Mueck is another hyper-realist who creates larger than life-sized people. A major exhibition of his work in Edinburgh eight years ago was a big hit.

Another Edinburgh-based hyper-realist artist is Claire Duguid who became an overnight sensation when her work featured online in the United States. Like Colin Wilson she is a graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and she works at the WASP studios.

It can take her up to three months to create one of her hyper-real pieces.