The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Ian MacInnes (1922-2003)

Ian MacInnes

Morag MacInnes writes:

My father the marine artist, teacher and socialist Ian MacInnes was born in Stromness in 1922. His father was skipper of the Pole Star, which serviced lighthouses; his mother, a Gaelic speaker, took in lodgers and looked after her nine children.

A childhood in Stromness amongst local characters, including Peter Esson the tailor (later immortalised in a poem by his classmate and friend George Mackay Brown), left my father with a deep love of the town and its people. This expressed itself in a series of cartoons he produced in the local paper, whilst still at school, of local worthies. It was received with much amusement, even by the subjects themselves!

He preferred outdoor life to the classroom, and it was clear to him that he wanted to paint; but he also developed a strong sense of justice, and a real interest in local and national politics in the 1930s.

His time at Gray’s College of Art was interrupted by war service. He produced oil sketches of life on board troop ships; but while Orkney was experiencing the expansion, excitement and disruption of a big influx of troops, he was in Australian waters.

When he returned, like many of his generation, he wanted to make the world a better and safer place for the next generation. He immersed himself in teaching and community politics. It is largely due to his efforts that the flagstones in Stromness were retained.

Whenever he had leisure, he painted. Yesnaby, he said, was his Mont Saint-Michel – he returned to it again and again. He was a familiar figure with his easel down the piers, or on Birsay beaches. He would tie himself and his canvas to a rock on wild stormy days.

He produced illustrations and dust jacket images for Mackay Brown’s books, and produced a series of fine portraits; but it was sea painting – oil and watercolour –  which was his real forte.

Although he regularly exhibited in Edinburgh, he was prouder of the fact that many Orcadians came to his house wanting ‘a MacInnes’ for their front room or a daughter’s wedding; he painted for his own folk, not for strangers.

When he retired after a successful period as headmaster of Stromness Academy, having been one of the first graduates of the Open University, he was at last able to paint the west coast of Orkney all day every day, and that made him very happy. He died in 2003 but his work, which is full of a love of his local landscape, survives and celebrates him.