Francis Boag

Born in Dundee, Francis has been drawing and painting his entire life. After attending Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in the mid-to-late 1960s, Francis had a successful career as an art teacher before becoming a full time professional artist in the early noughties. Since then, he has continued to develop the style for which he has become synonymous - vibrant, colourful paintings that combine intellectual elements with emotional triggers, allowing the viewer a sense of familiarity and exploration within the same scene.

Today, Francis is now considered by many to be one of Scotland’s foremost contemporary painters, exhibiting widely at home and increasingly abroad. His original work has been shown in venues in New York, Dublin, Belfast, Paris, Cannes, Munich, Seattle, Michigan, Russia, and Australia and he is one of only a very small number of artists to have work held in the national collections of both Scotland and Eire. His paintings have also found their way into a host of public collections including Dundee and Stirling Universities and Aberdeen Art Galleries and Museums and he is the only Scottish artist to have cards featuring his paintings included in the Fine Art collection of international children’s charity UNICEF, with his Christmas card designs regularly being among their top sellers.

The below was taken from an interview with Francis by Arlene Searle. This accompanied his 2008 Retrospective show at Fraser Gallery in St. Andrews – a full copy of the conversation can be found here in the show’s catalogue.

Early life and aspirations

Francis grew up Lochee, Dundee and attended Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in the mid 1960s, aged just 17. Here he studied under the Head of Painting, Alberto Morroco, and his deputy, David McLure, both of whom looked back to the great, pre-war French-based artists and felt that painting should show skill, superb draughtsmanship and the sensuous application of paint. However, this was the 1960s and everything about the traditional canvas was being challenged by Francis’ generation.

Jordanstone was really energetic, full of students from every corner of Scotland and every class and background. And everyone was striving to outdo everyone else! I found the experience almost overwhelming and struggled to survive my first year. But eventually I got my second wind and began to thrive…

My Damascus moment was a trip I had at the end of third year. Like everyone else I went round the Tate and the National and, while we were waiting for the pubs to open, we walked up Bond Street and Cork Street, just going into various galleries. I went downstairs in one and there were these great, big paintings of California with swimming pools and bright blue water. I was absolutely gobsmacked by them. I had no idea who the artist was but when I got back to Dundee I got a great big canvas made up in my bedroom and started painting. I had stumbled into David Hockney’s legendary exhibition in the Kasmin gallery. Paintings like ‘The Bigger Splash’ were there. I didn’t realise it at the time but this was a really important show.

Moving to the other side of education

After graduating, Francis’ first professional job was an art teacher, a career which he held for over 20 years. During the early days of his teaching career, finding the time to concentrate on his own painting was difficult however he kept up with developments in painting through his students and, once he got into the rhythm of school life, the downtime between lessons offered valuable space and resources for him to experiment with his own work. 

At first, teaching was pretty difficult, you’re really struggling to learn your new job, learning to handle classes, etc. and it‘s only later on that you can go back to your own work, by which time you’ve lost that hipness you once had and you’re an old fuddy duddy teacher…

At school there was this wee science technician who looked after the school garden and he used to leave a little jar with two or three cut flowers on my desk, not a big bunch, just 2 or 3 and I would sit when I was bored and just draw a couple of daffodils or irises.

As the years rolled on, Francis began to spend more of his free time painting, acquiring new techniques and developing the ‘style’ his work is so associated with today, and by the early 1990s he could consider himself a ‘Commercial Artist’.

It was a seminal moment because I realised that I couldn’t give work away or not sell them anymore because the people who bought paintings had paid good money and placed a value on my work, and I had to respect that."

Becoming a full-time pro

As interest in his work continued to grow, Francis was prompted to take a year-long sabbatical from teaching in 1999 whilst he studied for an MA at Grays School of Art in Aberdeen – a research-based course which required, among other things, that he reflect deeply on his own work to see it in the wider context of current contemporary art practice. Fortunately for the artist, the developments in his work triggered by this challenging and introspective period were met with great enthusiasm in the commercial gallery market and demand for his work had reached a point that enabled him to leave education and become a full-time, professional artist in 2001. 

Since becoming a full-time professional, Francis has probably become best known for his unique vision of Scotland’s rural landscape, particularly the North East of Scotland. His paintings are not about copying a scene, but rather creating a representation of it. Within every composition is a balance of references the viewer can hold on to and other avenues they can explore with their mind. The intellectual elements of his painting are the instantly graspable components of an image, such as the outline of a clump of beech trees or the unmistakeable silhouette of Dunnotar Castle nestling against the North Sea. These landmarks give the viewer a sense of scale and perspective, engaging the brain and allowing them to understand the composition. However, where his paintings really take off is not in the realm of intellectual comprehension but where they engage with feelings, through their emotional triggers.

When you’re beginning you’ve got more freedom. When you’ve done as many paintings as I have, or anyone in my position has, and you put down a red for example, you almost know the colour which is going to go best next, so you’ve got to try and find ways of fooling yourself and making a different, new discovery… There’s always a conflict you see – your brain will naturally try and close everything off all the time, it’s wanting to get finished as quickly as possible, so you’ve got to try and cheat it, to invite yourself to be distracted. Sometimes you’ll have to deliberately put the wrong thing on too, make it much darker for instance, before trying to get it much lighter or paint over it completely in white.

A new creative outlet

BoagArt Publishing is run by Francis’ children and it’s through this familial connection that we’re able to offer our exclusive range of Francis Boag originals and prints. Due to the economics of gallery representation, it can be difficult for Francis to showcase some of his smaller works; however, thanks to our unique connection with the Artist, we’re privileged to be able to provide a home for these fantastic pieces.

When trying out new ideas or exploring new themes, it makes sense to work on a small scale. However, I know that, as far as my own work is concerned, I put as much thought and effort into my small paintings as for any of the bigger pieces… and, in fact, sometimes the smaller works, have a spontaneity or 'va va voom' which can be hard to replicate in larger work.

However, the economics of gallery representation can cause problems with showing these smaller paintings so I am delighted to have found an exclusive outlet for these pieces which are such a vital part of my creative output. The arrangement with BoagArt Publishing showcases work which might never have had a public viewing…

Francis Boag

If you’re interested in viewing a complete catalogue of work Francis currently has available then please check out his profile on Artwork Archive.

For information out his upcoming and most recent exhibitions, please click here.

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