ROBIN Gibson Hume was an only child, born and raised in Clydebank, growing up in the company of his parents, grandparents and more family next door. The town had been blitzed in the war, but the vacant spaces and ruins were an adventure playground to children: bomb craters and old gardens made dens and hideaways. His father introduced him to theatres and cinemas. Film became an abiding fascination. Leaving school in 1961, Robin was a student at the Glasgow School of Art and devoted himself to the technical practices of painting, the balance of know-how and flamboyance embodied by such artists as David Donaldson and Alexander Goudie, mentors both. He read widely and along with an extensive knowledge of European cinema, his knowledge of literature, Scottish and international, in all its permutations and across centuries, was much deeper and broader than many of his contemporaries.

His conversation was always unpredictably refreshing and often challenging. He saw clearly film-makers’ techniques and talents of style and exposition, and the qualities writers bring out each in their individual capacity. Orson Welles, Sergio Leone, Burns and Austen remained favourites.

He became a school teacher for a while, but when he started working at Glasgow School of Art, perhaps one of his most lasting influences upon students was his role as Warden at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire for the residential workshops, where students would have the opportunity to work for extended periods in the countryside, looking after themselves away from the Glasgow environment and going into the woods and along the beaches below the cliffs. His authority as a guide to many students, in the arts generally and the particular locality, was characterised by his enthusiasm and patience, strength of character and constant attentiveness.

The artist Hazel Nagl managed the residency’s catering and contributed to tutoring the students in the 1970s and 1980s and many friends and artists from Glasgow and elsewhere remember their visits during those years with more than fondness. This was a location, and a company, with Robin at its centre, which was unrepeatable, uniquely valuable and lastingly, deeply enabling. Educationists of all kinds could learn from the balance and energy of learning, spontaneity, patience and wisdom that Robin co-ordinated in his time there. The Wardenship took a toll on his own productivity but his engagement with others brought him rewards and in his later years, when I visited him at his cottage in Kirkoswald, there were a number of trips around the area when we met various people from different social strata, each one of whom greeted him with friendliness and respect. He was loved.

In 1989 the Glasgow School of Art chose not to renew the lease at Culzean. Later, Robin moved to the whitewashed cottage overlooking the graveyard in Kirkoswald and Nadine Robinson was his partner, completing a PhD on New Zealand film at Glasgow University.

The welcome they extended to visitors, especially in summer afternoons and long, extensive, conversation-led lunch parties, often including a ramble through the cemetery and a recounting of the stories attached to its residents, many associated closely with a local poet named Robert Burns, remains a memory of what hospitality in all its best senses really means.

In his later years, he returned to painting, but over the years, his main artistic work was as a sculptor of portrait heads.

Many of these sculptures and paintings are currently on show at the Glasgow Art Club, 185 Bath Street, Glasgow. They are unlike anything else: curious, revealing, wonderfully rich works of art that bear repeated viewing and study.

As an artist, Robin was self-effacing. The only regret is that he is so grossly undervalued. The current climate does not favour modesty. Nor is it easy to recognise quality of the kind that Robin Hume’s work displays, which comes from great depths of understanding and human sympathy. Every national collection should house at least one of Robin’s works. They repay attention with all the generosity characteristic of the man. See them while you can.

Robin Hume: Souvenir

I would have met him first in the 1970s or 80s, in the company of my uncle, the artist John Cunningham, Robin’s colleague at Glasgow School of Art and teaching companion through many summers at Culzean Castle.

The contrast between John’s ebullient bonhomie and Robin’s reserve, poise and quiet sense of possible mischief were evident, but also Robin suggested an acute intuitive understanding about value, in people and in art, something to savour rather to demonstrate overtly. When we met again, early in the new millennium, after I’d returned from New Zealand, one of the first things he did was organise a “winter walk” for a small group of us, from Dunure towards Dailly, following the trail of Robert Louis Stevenson, whose essay “A Winter Walk in Carrick and Galloway” was our model.

We started with breakfast at the Dunure Inn: scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, white wine, bacon, toast, white wine, and drams of whisky for the road, since this was a cold day threatening rain. It was a cheery but rather slow beginning. As we followed the roads overlooking the sea, Robin explained to me his strategy if it came on to rain more severely: “We go to plan B,” he said.

I had to ask, “What’s plan B?”

He looked at me for a moment then smiled: “We do it anyway.”

Typical determination. And quickness. On another occasion, exploring with friends the derelict castle of Dalquharran – another spectacular Robert Adam design like Culzean – Robin had guided us uphill, over the fields, through the fencing and weeds, into the lower floors of the ruins, into the kitchen, and back out again, when an authoritative voice boomed over the high grass and bushes, “Come out of there at once! You’re trespassing! Out you come, the lot of you.” We were reduced to guilty wee boys and girls, caught by the janitor.

Robin went straight up to him, extending his hand and going straight into the speech: “I’m so glad to see you – you must be the groundsman – you’re looking out for vandals, I hope? You know there has been some vandalism – I’m very glad to know the property is being looked after so well.” We were all good friends in less than a minute.

In later years, he returned to painting, exhibiting at the RGI and gaining recognition. The paintings are idiosyncratic still lifes of objects he’d collected, quirky, odd things, assembled in unique arrangement, like a crossword puzzle of meanings, pleasing to contemplate, unanswerable in the mysteries and magic of their depictions. Or quasi-mythic scenes, or domestic landscapes – a favourite of mine was the view overlooking Kirkoswald cemetery from his back garden: “Early Morning Neighbours” was both a friendly and cheerily sinister title.

BUT it was his sculpture that should endorse his reputation as an artist of lasting distinction. His work should be in our national collections, emphatically in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. He was one of the finest portrait artists of sculpted heads – not busts, not the dramatic head and shoulders pushing into the air, but heads, faces, phrenological exactitudes of character. Every one of his sculptures is a profound revelation of a personality, to be studied closely and savoured. The artists Dan Ferguson, Bet Low, James Robertson, and others, anonymous people we’ll never meet now, but their faces, their features, deliver a humanity you won’t see on TV or cinema screens. They yield their character from depths you have to be patient with.

I have no idea how Robin managed to capture this quality. It cannot be described simply as a technique. These are not the flamboyant, dramatic, melodramatic sculptures of our more familiar sculptors, but intimate portraits. String quartets, not brass bands. The artist has created them with ruthless analytic observation yet equally with respect and tenderness. Qualities of determination, thoughtfulness, inwardness, emerge from them in ways quite unlike anything I can compare them with. These are characters who have read things, seen things, have lived experience to draw on. They are characters who have given, in their own lives, either through making art or, you can imagine, in conversation, in company, in friendship and argument.

I’ve never seen sculptures that deliver such a strong impression of thought going on behind the face, or of histories of life being remembered or dwelt upon considerately. Most sculptures of people are presentations, insisting upon their own forthcoming. These are invitations, promising an intrinsic worth. In this sense, they are optimistic. They imply lives of understanding, rather than of action or superficial presence. They are the precise opposite of “celebrities”: haunting, rather than gestural, bristly with life, yet friendly, when you spend time with them. And they invite you to spend time with them, unobtrusively and undemonstratively, compelling a sympathy, a sense that time is worth spending with these works of art, because when you do, it deepens and strengthens and endorses and encourages your own humanity. They quicken your sense of what it is to be responsive, sentient, a thinking human being. They do what all great art does, then, and what we are in need of now more than ever.

What I’m missing after his death isn’t so much a distinctive voice or a character with physical gestures and presence all his own – which I do, we all do who knew him at all – but it’s more than that, it’s an attitude, a form of address, oblique, quizzical, informative, inviting, tempting, festive, sometimes wise, that came through in his presence and in his art at his best, something unique and valuable beyond the anecdotes. I wish I could say it better.