"Cartanaugh Farm" depicts a typical Scottish Borders landscape. There are no people and the only sign of human presence - a set of white or light grey buildings - seems almost hidden under the natural elements of the vividly coloured trees which give life to the painting. The first impression received is desolation and emptiness due to there being no trace of the human activities normally associated with a farm. This first feeling is eclipsed, however, by the strong sense of harmony given by nature - always present, alive and never really submitted to human will.
John's preference has always been to paint directly from his subject, both in oil and in watercolour. Oil paint - as used in this painting - has a boldness and uncluttered simplicity which reflects the practical consequences of working with this medium, especially when working outside on a large scale.
The Borders countryside dominated his works in the years before he moved to Broomhill, especially the bold forms of the Eildon Hills and the beauty of the Ettrick Valley. After the move, the surrounding gardens became a fertile subject for his painting, when time allowed away from teaching and family commitments.
The early influences on John's painting style were from the French period. The post-Impressionism of painter Othon Friesz inspired John to paint in a direct and truthful manner. He was also influenced by the disturbing effect of the Surrealists 1933 Paris Exhibition, from which a typical unsettling emptiness and a slightly surreal perspective derived. John also cites the Norwegian, Edvard Munch as another artist who he admired.
John McNairn (1910-2009) was born in Hawick in the Scottish Borders, the elder son of John McNairn, publisher of the Hawick News and a painter himself. He trained at Edinburgh College of Art from 1927 to 1930 under D.M.Sutherland and William Gillies. Both tutors had studied on the Continent, and McNairn followed the custom for the most talented Edinburgh students to go to London and then, on graduation, to go abroad to continue their development. In Paris in the early 1930s John made, the unusual choice (at least among Scottish students) of attending the Academie Scandinave, attracted by the presence of Othon Friesz.
After war service in India, he returned to West Calder where he met his future wife Stella. The newly-weds moved to Hawick and then to Selkirk, where John became Head of the Art Department at Selkirk High School.
John's painting has been infrequently exhibited. In 1950, Edinburgh's The Scottish Gallery held a joint exhibition of McNairn and his father's painting. Then, five generations of McNairn artists were brought together in an exhibition in Peebles in 1987. Between these years, McNairn was frequently included in other exhibitions, and he organised displays of his own in the gallery he and his wife established in Selkirk.