Scottish artist, Alexander Goudie (1933–2004) depicted one of his favourite Burns poems, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ in over 50 very large paintings.
For Alexander the medieval Brig o’ Doon always held a special appeal.
It’s steep arch of stone appeared to leap across the River Doon like a galloping stead, framed by billowing, yellowing greens and deep burgundy reds – it is no wonder it featured so prominently in Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter Poem!
Despite being fascinated by the poem from a young age, Alexander Goudie didn’t make his first visit to the brig until his late 50’s and was instantly struck by its cinematic scale and intimidating quality; the perfect setting for this nightmarish tale. He’d expected it to be smaller somehow. Pictures he’d seen had not done it justice!
Standing on the North bank in his green tailored 3-piece tweed suit and bunnet, he snapped some pictures on his compact Canon. Of course, like other photos he’d seen, these wouldn’t truly capture the grandeur before him, that was still to come. He always drew out his camera with reluctance, preferring to capture his subjects in sketches and in-person sittings.
‘Now the real work begins’, he thought to himself, extracting a well-used A3 sketch pad and pencil from his shoulder bag. 10 minutes on a small cluster of weeds on the bank. 15 on the treetops. And another few on the rippling river. Hastily capturing snippets of the Autumn Day in doodles and scrawls. Details which would feed into the whole, to capture the scene and paint the vivid images of Tam’s race across the bridge. He could almost hear the screech of the witches and ghouls pursuing Tam and trusty Meg as they fled across the ancient stones. Hooves clattering on the cobbles.
And his mind wandered back to a tale he often told his three children. Of an Isobel Gowdie, a Nairn woman who confessed to witchcraft in 1662, immortalised in the symphony ‘The Confession of Isobel Gowdie’ by James MacMillan. Surely, she was a relation!
Alexander was fond of telling stories, especially the creepy and macabre. Scaring his son Lachlan on a Sunday trip to Girvan with tales of the bloated body found by the lonely lighthouse on the water’s edge. As an art teacher he would start his classes with a vivid tale to stir the imagination, leading some parents to complain he was giving their children nightmares!
But no story he told would inspire his own art as much as the apocryphal Tam o’Shanter poem, “a gothic tale, strewn with vivid and awesome images”, which had captured his imagination since childhood. Capturing these scenes in all their grim and haunting glory would be a challenge, one he would relish.
This research trip had been successful, he thought to himself. And there would be many more to come… But, now to Troon for a family Seafood feast of lobster – and a tall glass of white wine to swirl visions of hooves on stone, stormy nights, and devilish beasts through his mind.
Alexander Goudie – Brig o’ Doon chalk on paper c.1994
Win the Keystane o’ the Brig: The Goudie Collection – South Ayrshire Council / Estate of Alexander Goudie”
Inspired by Lachlan Goudie’s memories of his father, Alexander Goudie – a man widely acclaimed as having been one of Scotland’s finest figurative painters. Alexander Goudie created over 50 large paintings depicting Robert Burn’s Tam o’ Shanter poem, of which he was a great fan.
Written by: Toria Cassidy
Illustrations by: Toria Cassidy
Audio by: Gregor Campbell
Audio recording and mixing by: Scott Andrew