JUST 17 when she had her first showing at the Royal Scottish Academy, artist Christian Wharton is returning to Scotland more than 60 years later for a solo exhibition in Edinburgh.
Currently building an iconic home in the Borders which is designed in accordance with ancient Indian Vastu principles, Wharton has had eight London exhibitions and her work adorns the offices of major corporations such as the BBC, hospitals, hospices and merchant banks like Flemings and Hambros.
Her paintings have earned plaudits from art critics with the Spectator’s Laura Gascoigne saying: “Her mature technique ... is as transparent and dazzling, as the element she paints.”
Loading article content
Wharton, who confesses she is “obsessed” by water, has developed her own techniques and style for painting it and her book Painting Water in Watercolour was published in 2003.
Following travels to Bhutan, Nepal, India, Australia, New Zealand, America and Croatia, her new paintings now include people as well as the natural world.
“Having believed for a long time that art expresses the truth that matter is energy, I have been looking at ways in which this occurs in subjects other than moving water,” said Wharton. “However water still remains the main focus of my art as in shown by the Croatia paintings.”
HOW DID SHE BEGIN?
EDUCATED in Galashiels and St Andrews University, where she studied history, Wharton’s life has been as colourful as her paintings.
Despite an early talent for art, she was channelled into the university stream but after St Andrews she decided to pursue her passion and left Scotland for Paris, studying at an atelier or free studio for seven months.
“I did lots of life drawing, met many pretentious artists and grew up a lot,” said Wharton, who is now 78.
Returning to Britain she married artist Michael Wharton in 1960 and had two children.
“Michael was a very fine artist and taught me a huge amount about art,” she said.
However the marriage did not last and by the 1980s Wharton was living in the Welsh borders running a small sub post office. Finding it hard to make ends meet, she decided to make money by painting small landscapes of the local scenery. She had a dog at this time who loved running into the river and splashing about.
“It was a good painting but there was something wrong with the splash.”
This dissatisfaction led to her becoming obsessed with the challenges of expressing moving water and changing the whole direction of her art.
WHAT HAPPENED THEN?
WHARTON left Wales for Lancashire in 1984 and found herself within reach of the finest waterfalls in the North of England. However it took another three years of painstaking work before a breakthrough occurred and she was able to express the dynamism, energy and wetness of a waterfall.
“I did many studies of High Force, the highest waterfall in England in County Durham where the river Tees plunges over dramatic and dark 30ft cliffs. It was only when, feeling rather depressed at a series of rejections, I went up to the studio and decided that I would paint something just for me, that something wonderful occurred. I mixed up a load of dark paint and poured it onto wetted paper without any idea of what I was going to do. Before I knew what was happening a new version of High Force appeared and this time I knew I had done it. All the drama, all the energy, all the spray – everything was there.”
WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE?
LOOKING back, Wharton feels it was her practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) that helped her develop the patience to persevere.
“I started TM in 1967 and it has been my guiding light,” said Wharton. “I have had a very up-and-down life and things have gone wrong but this has been like a little candle. At first I thought it would magic away everything bad but that’s not how it worked. Gradually my life changed – there were still ups and downs, but the ups were higher and the downs caused less distress and were less overshadowing. It became my guiding light – a small candle at the still centre. My paintings would not have developed the way they did if it had not been for TM. It has not been merely an inspiration but has increased my perception of what is really going on in nature, art and life itself.”
WHAT ELSE DID SHE DO?
FROM the mid-1990s and onwards Wharton was able to travel. She went to Bhutan, Nepal, and India which increased the range of her subject matter. In 2006 she moved to St Boswells in the Scottish Borders to look after her mother who died in 2008. Afterwards she took what she describes as a “grannie’s gap year” (which lasted two and a half years), spending longer times in India, America, Australia and New Zealand.
She came to Berwick in 2011 in order to find the plot for her ideal house.
“The idea is that it should face due east and have a view of the sunrise so it was logical to build it on the east coast and I wanted it to be in Scotland. I also wanted it to have a burn in the garden as well as a sea view. So I was thrilled when I found a site at Lamberton in the Borders which has all the things I wanted. We have started on the preliminary work and it is very exciting. It will look quite conventional from the outside but the light has to shine right through it and there has to be a still centre in the middle which is lit from the four cardinal points and the sky.”
WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?
AS WHARTON was building her house in Scotland she decided her next exhibition should be nearby and was delighted when the Edinburgh Gallery took the chance to show her work.
“Since then all sorts of things have happened including a Chinese engineering company suddenly wanting to buy 26 of my paintings. They are quite large paintings and they want me to go to Kunming in Yunan Province to sign the dotted line. It is a city with a great interest in water – they have diverted a whole river to make an artificial waterfall amongst other things. They became interested in me because I paint water and they want to make prints of the paintings.”
Her Edinburgh exhibition will consist of 29 paintings, most of them recently completed.
Worldwide Water is at The Edinburgh Gallery, 20a Dundas Street, from March 4 to 19.