Gill Sherry

I’m no stranger to Croy Shore. That said, it still takes my breath away as I wind my way down the single track road to Electric Brae Gallery on this beautiful, crisp morning.

The gallery is home to resident artist Roddy McKenzie and his wife Alison, who purchased the beachfront property in 2006.

“You can’t not love it,” says Roddy, “I mean, look at it.”

He’s right, the view is amazing. From the majestic Culzean Castle to the iconic Ailsa Craig, could there be a better place to set up a gallery and studio?

“We looked at several places but fell in love with Croy immediately,” he tells me.

Initially, Roddy was just looking for somewhere to work. Having previously been working in a small garage – the size of his paintings reflected the size of the space – he was keen to find somewhere bigger. And when it came so space, this property had bucket loads, including the perfect spot for a studio.

The gallery opened a couple of years after the couple moved in.

“It wasn’t really a gallery, we just had open weekends. We would open on a Friday night and close on a Sunday afternoon. We’d do two or three of those a year, just displaying and selling my work.”

As word got around, other artists also began to display their work, hiring wall space at the gallery. Themed shows were also arranged – portraits, animals, nature – together with music nights, charity events and theatre productions.

“We were going to have an annual festival to rival Glastonbury!” Roddy jokes.

What they didn’t account for, however, was a global pandemic.

“We were on an upward trajectory,” Roddy says, “and then the pandemic hit. Now we can’t get people back down here. It’s gone back to where it all started.”

We talk for a while about the impact of the pandemic, people’s lack of confidence, and how attitudes have changed. What hasn’t changed, though, is Roddy’s desire to paint.

“I’ve always drawn and painted,” he declares. “When I went to secondary school, I did art in the first and second year and then I dropped it for science and maths. I was going to be a doctor, but my heart wasn’t in it… so the art department seemed to be quite keen to get me in there to do a higher and a portfolio and to get to Glasgow School of Art.”

Originally from Prestwick, Roddy did indeed go to Glasgow School of Art where he studied sculpture in the basement of the Mackintosh Building.

“I had four great years there… but I’m not good at being in groups. I used to be a team player but I found out that I’m not. So I just went up north on my own and painted.”

He painted in Inveraray, Tarbert, Inverness and Edinburgh but ended up back in Glasgow in the mid-80s where he stayed for the next ten years. By this time, he’d left his sculpting behind.

“I enjoyed sculpture but my work at that time was more conceptual and always knew I wanted to paint.”

Like many artists, Roddy had to find employment to subsidise the income from his paintings. He worked for Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector (GCVS) as an arts worker and also worked for Mayfest, an annual festival of popular theatre and music, for two years.

Back to present day, Roddy and Alison are in the process of renovating their property with Roddy quite literally putting his own stamp on it.

“Murals is my thing at the moment,” he says. “Internal, not gable ends.”

He shows me around the ground floor of the house where his murals dominate the hallway, cloakroom, bathroom and bedroom. They really are stunning and I begin to wonder which of the rooms in my own home would benefit from one of Roddy’s murals…

We pause in the hallway where the huge artwork resembles the actual view from the front window. The ocean… seagrass… blue sky. It really is quite beautiful.

It’s not difficult to see where he gets his inspiration from. But, inspiration comes in many forms, as Roddy tells me: “I can remember seeing da Vinci drawings as a wee boy and was knocked out by that. My father taught me as well, going way back to when I was four or five. He was in the merchant navy and he used to do watercolours when he was at sea. He would teach me how to draw the funnel of a ship, put the shading in and make it look rounded. I can remember that quite vividly. That was quite a big lesson in drawing. It put me years and years ahead of everyone else in Primary 4!”

These days, he works mainly with oil on canvas, although, the murals are usually acrylics. And his speciality?

“I specialise in whatever I’m doing at the time. I’ve been doing a lot of sketch portraits, landscapes, seascapes…”

Presumably his seascapes often include Ailsa Craig?

“I’ve had enough of Ailsa Craig!” he says, before admitting he’s done rather well from it in the past, particularly after the Scottish women’s curling team won gold at the Winter Olympics in 2002. Roddy created his own version of the second of René Magritte’s ‘La condition humaine’ series, in which he substituted the cannon ball for a curling stone.

“That was the star of the ‘Ailsa mania’ as it became,” he laughs.

Of course, there are plenty of other Ayrshire landmarks for Roddy to paint. In fact, he recently organised (and displayed at) the Bridges of Ayr art competition at The Cutty-Sark Centre, and it wasn’t just the paintings he was impressed with.

“It’s a perfect gallery,” he says of the Centre. There’s no direct sunlight but tons of glass so it’s just beautiful light in there and space to walk back from stuff. To have a big space like that and be allowed to put paintings in there… You could see people calming down as they came in because it’s such a big space with a beautiful outlook.”

With that in mind, he’s looking forward to the Portrait art exhibition and competition at the same venue in March. Viewing will take place from 19th March and, following the success of the Bridges of Ayr event, Roddy hopes this will be even more successful.

In the meantime, Roddy and Alison are looking forward to hosting more exhibitions at the gallery with Roddy also planning another ‘en plen air’ at Glenapp Castle where he enjoys painting outdoors and where some of his paintings are displayed.

“I’ve been painting down there quite a lot,” says Roddy, “it’s been fun.”

For now, though, it’s back to work on his murals. As for me, I think there’s just enough time for a stroll along the beach…

For information on future events or to view Roddy’s work visit www.electricbraegallery.com, or find them on Instagram (electricbraegallery) or Facebook (Electric Brae Gallery & Studio).