London show for artist’s Scottish seascapes

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Words and photographic portrait by Mark Davey

A Southend artist whose studio faces the Atlantic ocean is putting the finishing touches to a series of seascapes for a London exhibition.

Deadlines are nothing new for former internationally acclaimed graphic designer Mike Healey, an ex-Glasgow School of Art (GSA) student and latterly the professor at the head of its design and applied art department.

Speaking to the Campbeltown Courier last Thursday, Professor Healey said: ‘I have to complete 20 canvases by April 16 for a spring show at Thompson’s Marylebone Gallery.’

Mike’s professional art career was boosted after his 1974 graduation, with a first class GSA honours degree in graphic design, although in reality it began much earlier at Keil School, Dumbarton, which he attended, partly funded by a foundation award.

At Keil he was influenced by teacher and painter John Cunningham, who also  went on to lecture at GSA, and Mike was further pushed towards GSA by his next teacher John Mathieson.

Mike said: ‘I attended GSA from 1970 to 1975, the first four years were spent following a classical arts course in art, architecture, design and photography.

‘I loved photography, processing film and making prints in the darkroom.

‘I especially liked the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and the war photographer Don McCullin and there us of the flexible 35mm format.

‘We were taught by an ex-BBC man who used to light everything with six lights and I came to like using available light without anything artificial.’

In the holidays, Healey worked as a medical artist at the Royal Infirmary.

Mike added: ‘For some professors photography was not selective enough and when they were lecturing medicine they used illustrations.

‘I did a series on oxygen therapy and once drew a tracheostomy as it was performed on an Irish navvy.’

Mike said everyone was told to ‘do graphic design’ and, following a postgraduate year, he landed the prestigious Design Council’s Leverhulme Postgraduate Design Travel Award.

This single award funded a year in the United States where Mike visited some of the New York advertising greats such as McCann Erickson, J Walter Thompson and Pushpin Studios.

He returned in 1977 to become a graphic designer at Glasgow textile firm J P Coats but the following year wanderlust took him back to Brazil, the country of his 1951 birth, and a spell as a freelance in Rio de Janeiro.

The start of the 1980s found Mike at the largest advertising agency in Scotland, Rex Stewart and Associates but by 1983 he had returned to academia as a GSA lecturer in the graphic design, illustration and photography department.

A year later he was appointed head of the department and in 1991 became head of the school of design and craft, all the time pursuing a design consultancy.

Mike completed a wide variety of designs including work for the European Parliament, the Scottish Tourist Board, Robert Wiseman Dairies, Tunnocks, Ferranti, British Rail, TSB Bank and the Royal Mail.

Dugald Cameron, who Mike replaced as GSA head of design, writing an introduction to a Mike Healey exhibition in New York, wrote: ‘It used to be called ‘commercial art’ and used to be so described in the GSA prospectus until its relatively recent emergence as ‘graphic design’.

‘Is there a hint of pretension here, a disavowal perhaps of the decency of an art form at once truly democratic in its availability yet capable of scaling the heights of visual imagination in the useful service of commerce?’

Mike first came to Southend when he dated a Greenlees girl from Campbeltown and later bought Dunaverty house which was originally built for the village doctor by a Duke of Argyll.

Mike’s studio is below the main house in what would have been the stables for the doctor’s horse.

Round the house are signs of Mike’s fascination with all things designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The nameplate is completed in a Mackintosh script, the gates and fencing, although partially hidden by a hedge, are made up in the same square pattern.

Mike retired early from GSA in 1997 but did not stop producing art.

He said: ‘Moving to Kintyre full-time was inspirational.’

For more than 20 years he has been represented as a painter by London’s Thompson’s Gallery and among his patrons he can count the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Mike Healey in his Southend studio. 25_c08healey04_studio

Mike Healey working ‘en pleine air’. NO_c08healey05_en_pleine_air