John Houston

Born in Fife, John Houston, OBE, studied at Edinburgh College of Art (1948-1952). He became a tutor at Edinburgh in 1955 and went on to be departmental head of the painting school and director of the post-graduate department before his retirement in 1989.  He established his own studio in Edinburgh in 1956 and in 1957 had his first exhibition at the independent 57 Gallery which he co-founded. He subsequently established a close working relationship with The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh exhibiting his
characteristic bold, expressionist oil paintings and watercolours of Scottish sea and landscapes from 1960 until his death.  International recognition came in 1969, when he was appointed artist-in-residence at the Prairie School in Wisconsin under the wealthy patronage of Mr and Mrs S Johnson (of Johnson Wax). There, the monotonous horizon and broad sky further simplified his approach, and he started painting what he referred to as ‘sky pictures’. Houston received numerous awards for his exceptional
interpretation of Scotland’s landscape, including the Royal Scottish Academy Guthrie Award and Honorary Degrees from both Heriot Watt and Aberdeen universities. Collections include: Kirkcaldy Art Gallery & Museum; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

John Houston married fellow artist Elizabeth Blackadder in 1956 and their shared journeys across Europe and latterly to Japan were an important part of their lives. As critic William Packer said (1983), “travel…for the Houstons was never aimless. These were before else voyages of the eye.” For both artists close observation – whether at home in Scotland or elsewhere – was the foundation of their art. This ‘voyage of the eye’ is seen in the beautifully observed drawing that John did of Elizabeth, showing the close relationship that became fundamental to both their lives.