'Mulberry Mountain' is a watercolour work. On paper it is exemplary of Ian McKenzie-Smiths style of working. Clearly reminiscent of a landscape scene, the abstract shapes that make up the work are originally derived from colours, forms and structures in the natural world. This could be described as a somewhat metaphorical translation of the landscapes that serve as McKenzie-Smith's primary inspirational source. The forms that compositionally make up Mulberry Mountain are quite big and broad. The work also displays graduating earthy muted colours, primarily based around peach, navy and mulberry tones. The broad shapes and reduced palette immediately brings to mind work by the Russian-American artist Mark Rothko, who is normally associated with the American Abstract Expressionist movement.
Connotations with Abstract Expressionism are further reinforced by Ian's large gestural brush strokes, which add a way of engaging with the work emotionally. Additionally, the small scale provides the viewer with the opportunity to experience the work intimately. Within this context, it could even be stated that the abstract language of colour and form that the artist uses brings the work beyond a place of representation. Ian seems to bring the viewer to a space of abstracted cognitive engagement. The artist's interest in Zen philosophy reinforces this perspective.
Ian works within the field of Scottish abstraction, producing images that derive ultimately from the landscape around him. He depicts the essence of his surroundings, moving from recording what he sees to presenting a metaphor of his subject through the use of colour and form. Ian's works show his enduring commitment to his distinctly personal brand of abstraction and his subtle, evocative way of working inarguably owes something to his influence of Eastern traditions.
Ian McKenzie-Smith was born in Montrose in 1935 and studied at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen and at Hospitalfield in Arbroath from 1953-58. A travelling scholarship in 1959 took him to Paris where he met the Japanese artist, Kenzo Okada, and encountered Zen philosophy. An oriental sense of balance and calligraphic finesse has been a feature of his work ever since. He later went on to become Director of the Art Gallery in Aberdeen from 1968 to 1989. He took part in Compass Gallery's inaugural exhibition in 1969 and has been a regular exhibitor throughout the past 40 years. He became Aberdeen's City Arts and Recreation Officer from 1989 to 1996. In 1992 he was awarded the OBE for his services to Art. From 1988 to 1998 he was President of the Royal Society of Watercolours and in 1991 up until 1998 he became Secretary of the Royal Scottish Academy. He is currently President of the Royal Scottish Academy. He has work in several public collections including the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Aberdeen and Glasgow. Now retired he continues to live and paint in Aberdeen. His work, although based on landscape and other forms, is broadly abstract.