A SCOTTISH artist whose paintings show the lives of refugees is unveiling a major exhibition as people continue to flee Ukraine.

Derek Robertson's show ‘Singing Under The Same Sky’ opens at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum tomorrow and a percentage of the proceeds from any paintings sold will be gifted back to refugee charities in Scotland and overseas.

Robertson says there are many parallels between his work – inspired by visiting refugee camps in Sicily, Cyprus and Jordan – and the evolving situation on the borders of Ukraine.

The 54-year-old said: “What’s going through my mind is, ‘Oh my God, not again!’ I never expected to be opening this show when a new refugee crisis is erupting.

“One of my overriding impressions when I was speaking to refugees is that this could be my brother, my mother, my daughter, one of my close friends — people who are living their lives just as we are, who suddenly find themselves in the midst of terrible conflict and have to leave everything. All of this is directly applicable to what’s happening in Ukraine.”

Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland stands with Ukraine and described the UK Government’s refusal to waive visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees as  “shameful”.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon attacks 'shameful' Tory response to Ukrainian refugee crisis

Robertson, from Balermino in Fife, is best-known as a wildlife artist but his work took a new direction when he realised that the routes taken by refugees travelling to Europe mirrored those of migratory birds.

“The summer of boats was unfolding, and I was watching people arriving in distress on the shores of a Greek island," he said. "I realised I recognised the beach — it was on a tiny island where I’d gone to help scientists monitor migratory birds.

“The issues are complex, but there are studies which make direct links between climate change, conflict and migration. Our response to the issues of environmental change and the refugee crisis in the coming decades will define who we are.”

The National:

Robertson spent a year travelling to refugee camps in Europe and the Middle East, visiting refugee camps in Sicily, Cyprus and Jordan, the borders of Syria and Iraq, and the infamous "Jungle" in Calais just before it was demolished. He volunteered with charities and taught art in refugee schools, as well as sketching and painting.

Along the way he was mugged, escorted away by armed police, and only just escaped a riot. His paintings combine images of the camps with fragments of songs and stories, and the birds he encountered. Some also incorporate discarded wood, paper and fabric found in the camps.

“I didn’t take a camera, because pointing a lens at people in these places was dangerous and inappropriate," he said.

"I found I was using the same approach I use when I am studying wildlife, to sit down at the edge of things and sketch. Because I wasn’t a threat, people would come up and see what I was doing, it was a great way of meeting people."

The National:

Robertson continued: “It was so shocking and upsetting to see people in that level of distress that it felt unreal a lot of the time. I had to keep prodding myself and saying ‘This is real life’. At the same time, people’s courage and good humour, and the warmth of their hospitality, was humbling.

“It started as ‘I’ll do a painting’. It quickly became a few paintings, now there are more than 80.

“I thought I would have finished what I was going to say by now, but there is always a new refugee crises to respond to.

“My mind is very much on what’s happening in Ukraine and I plan to make work in response to that.”

Dr Heather Carroll, Exhibitions and Events Officer at the Stirling Smith, said: “Every painting that Derek has created as part of his ‘Migrations’ project has a fascinating story to tell. Each artwork reads like a visual diary, sharing his experiences of working with refugees and studying birds’ changing migration patterns.

“We are so pleased to host this incredibly poignant exhibition highlighting the overlapping nature of climate change and the refugee crisis.”

For more information visit: smithartgalleryandmuseum.co.uk/exhibition/singing-under-the-same-sky-by-derek-robertson/