Joyce Gunn Cairns MBE has become one of Scotland’s most cherished artists, with nine works in the permanent collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, five works in the permanent collection of the City Art Centre, and works in other major collections including Balliol College, Oxford and Jesus College, Cambridge. Gunn Cairns trained in Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art, having previously completed a degree in German and Comparative Religion at Aberdeen University
‘There is a feature in the April 2013 issue of the Times Literary Supplement by the writer Alan Taylor about his experience of sitting for me for a head drawing; this feature is particularly meaningful because it brings together my prodigious love of books and my work as an artist, reflected in the fact that over many years I have drawn a great number of writers including Richard Holloway, Colm Toibin, A L Kennedy, Alasdair Gray Jackie Kay, Alan Taylor, Edwin Morgan, Bashabi Fraser and Christine de Luca. Head drawing has been a major part of my work and I have several head drawings in major collections – the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Oxford Universities, and Edinburgh city Council, as well as in many private collections.
A heart warming outcome of my many exchanges with writers was an exciting and successful exhibition I shared in 2012 with the writer and artist Alasdair Gray in The Smithy Gallery in Blanefield.
I have for many years enjoyed the patronage of the Chief Curator of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery ; she has included me in three major exhibitions in the SNPG, and curated two solo exhibitions of my work, one (Daughters of Eve) which toured in the Highlands and Paris in 2004, and a second exhibition Heroines in Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, in 2011.
I do enjoy the experience of meeting writers and actors through my relative ability to draw heads, but my deepest interest as an artist is in the figure, and so long as I cannot paint like Rembrandt, I will be forever restless. Most of my figurative work is imaginative insofar as it may begin with a sitter but it transforms itself through re-working.
A third strand to my work is wildlife drawing. I especially love to draw birds and hares, and I spent many happy hours at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh. I have been saddened by the recent refurbishment because the creatures are now all behind glass and many are obscured by the information panels.
Over many years I have enjoyed much affirmation and encouragement for my work, including several warm reviews by Professor Duncan MacMillan, and a few prizes – 2nd Prize in the Jerwood Drawing Prize in the early 2000s, and this year the Scottish Art Club Annual Prize. A forthcoming exhibition, October – December this year, is a solo exhibition entitled Creative Ageing, in Lochgelly Centre in Fife, curated by the Development Worker Gillian Parsons and sponsored by the Luminate Festival (Director Anne Gallacher). Sat Herald Arts section, 14 april 2012, by Jan Patience in response to the exhibition I shared with Alasdair Gray at The Smithy Gallery in Blanefield last spring.’
“…Gunn Cairns is a one-off, a maelstrom of creative energy which never stops probing and pushing. … There is an almost translucent softness to her heads and figures although … she has a fine strong line which is as forthright on paper as her character is in person. A Gunn Cairns portrait feels like it has been drawn from the outside in, using light-as-a-feather strokes, as though teasing out the subject’s psyche. ….
Her work never shirks from the big subjects of love, hope, ageing and death…”