Alastair Michie: Painter and sculptor

Alastair Michie was a talented painter and sculptor who took up art belatedly in the early 1960s. During the previous decade he had pursued a successful career as a freelance designer and illustrator. The change seemed inevitable for someone from an important Scottish art family such as his. His mother, Anne Redpath, was one of the greatest Scottish painters of the 20th century, his father, James Michie, an architect and his youngest brother, David, became a celebrated painter and teacher.

Alastair Michie was born in St Omer, France in 1921, the eldest of three sons. His father worked first for the War Graves Commission in northern France and then as private architect to a rich American inventor in Provence, but the recession of the early 1930s prompted a return to the Scottish borders. At school, Alastair won a scholarship to study architecture in Edinburgh where he sought to follow his father's vocation.

His studies were interrupted by the Second World War, in which he served with distinction as a night fighter pilot in reconnaissance aircraft over Germany and occupied territory. Reluctant to return to further studies after the war, Alastair Michie applied a natural talent as draughtsman to a career as illustrator and designer, first in London and then in Wareham in Dorset, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

The turning point in his professional life came at the 1962 Venice Biennale, where he encountered the expansive scale and energy of the American abstract expressionists, notably Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. This triggered a desire in Michie to become a painter in a way that his mother's example had not. Redpath kept her artistic practice rigorously separate from family life and although something of her natural facility for colour and texture was evident throughout her son's mature painting, Alastair Michie was adamant when declaring that "my mother's work did not influence me". Michie spent an evening with Rothko after his friend John Plumb's opening at the Axiom Gallery in London in the late 1960s, an experience that confirmed his belief in the power of abstract art to touch the raw nerve of universal emotion.

Michie's architecture and design background led his work toward a careful, constructive approach; drawn to what he described as the "architectural movement" of Kline's blacks, Michie frequently used black or white, highlighted by a spare use of pastel shades, as the dominant compositional element in his work. But in common with Manet and with Spanish art in general, which had so influenced Scottish colourists like F.C.B. Cadell, he made positive use of black as a colour replete with sensational as well as structural qualities.

Since structure and design took their place alongside more evocative, poetic and informal aspects in his work, Michie's decision to sculpt seemed natural. The two disciplines cross-fertilised, sharing an interest in the shapes of boulders, found objects, landscape features or of shrapnel and other wartime fragments that Michie discovered on Studland beach in the 1950s. An early bronze, Nemesis, was inspired by a bone found there. Later sculptures, cast in bronze or aluminium at an industrial foundry in Bridport, west Dorset, revealed a mixture of organic and architectural form. Michie's experience of war informed all aspects of his repertoire, ranging from the Shrapnel series to pieces based on the ancient Greek wheel of death and to a large 15ft bronze, Endeavour, commissioned by British Aerospace at Filton, Bristol, with a thrusting aerodynamic shape that recalled Michie's flying days.

It was upon his work as a painter, however, that Michie's reputation was mainly founded. He enjoyed a major solo show in São Paulo, Brazil in 1972 and the modern art museums in both São Paulo and Rio acquired his work. In 1982 he became a Royal West of England academician and served as council member between 1984 and 1994. Through the support of the RWA sculptor Peter Thursby, Michie also became a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1994.

In the early 1990s, Michie followed his mother in exhibiting at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. His desire to emulate his brother and have a regular London gallery was not fulfilled, although he enjoyed a major solo show at the Mall Gallery in 1996 and a less successful show with Archeus Fine Art in 2000. He sold best from his studio, a large wine vault below the splendid Queen Anne house in Wareham where he lived with his second wife Sally from 1961 onwards.

Michie belonged to a generation of later modernist artists who shared an optimistic but never naïve world-view conditioned by an understanding of human nature gained during wartime. A sophisticated, urbane man with a quiet, wry sense of humour, he overcame a strange mix of privilege and disadvantage to pursue a difficult career.

Peter Davies

Alastair Michie, painter, sculptor and illustrator: born St Omer, France 9 December 1921; married 1944 Hazel Greenham (three daughters; marriage dissolved), 1970 Sally Greasley (one son, one daughter); died Wareham, Dorset 2 May 2008.

exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

C# Developer

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client is lo...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor