Hong Kong and Yell: two halves of The Fine Art Society’s first exhibition of drawings by Ron Sandford (b.1937). Island life from two geographically and culturally distinct and distant places are united in Ron’s appreciation of the commonplace – or common place – both richly detailed microcosms.
In the mid 1980s, Sandford settled in Lamma, a small island off Hong Kong. A sort of paradise is how he described it. Living on the edge of pre-handover China and close to Macau, he was drawn to Chinese vernacular architecture as well as life as he found it around him. After 6 years, Ron and his family moved to another island: Yell, almost as far north as you can go in the UK. From his studio, he draws the everyday, every day: still life, landscape and portrait in pencil, pen, ink and watercolour. From the windows of his studio and home, Ron looks across the Bluemull sound to Unst. A distinctive cleft in the cliff face defiantly sits in the backdrop of many pictures, a recurring motif like the container ships that lurk in the background of his Hong Kong work.
Ron grew up in Greenock, the son of a marine engineer. He was surrounded by plans and elevations. Through war-time rationing, his father brought home disused blueprints for tablecloths. The pale blue background and white skeletal drawings of cross-sections and elevations were, he recalls, ‘soaked up with my porridge’. From 1956-60 he attended Glasgow School of Art in the etching and engraving department. Encouraged by Philip Reeves, his tutor, Ron applied for and was accepted into the Royal College of Art. For three years he studied in the Graphics department where he became friends with Edward Bawden. He went on to secure a part-time teaching job at the College. Through the 60s and 70s he also taught part time in a number of prominent art schools. He illustrated books and newspapers and undertook large scale architectural commissions.
Released from those strictures, Ron’s eye and pen have roamed as they please. Alighting upon old rope, wild flowers, geos, trout, geese and sheep and in the east, broken tiles, lanterns, tropical plants and pan-tiled rooves.