7th May

Rennie Mackay

The artist Rennie Mackay has died at his home in Glenrothes at the age of ninety-eight.

Mackay was a leading figure in the Scottish Surrealist movement, which flourished in the 1950s despite mainstream opinion regarding its creations as ‘no very nice’. His father was a tailor from Cupar, his mother a bonnet-maker from Dundee. When Mackay was twelve his mother accidentally suffocated on a damp tea towel while making scones. This evidently had a profound effect on the boy: many of his paintings depict faces covered in tea towels, serviettes or tablecloths.

Having taken drawing lessons from an early age, Mackay’s first employment was as a designer of patterns for linoleum in a Kirkcaldy factory. Later, he drew cover illustrations for the People’s Friend magazine, but was sacked for introducing subversive elements, most infamously a West Highland terrier copulating with a cat in an otherwise traditional depiction of Peebles High Street.

By this time he was communicating with such Paris-based luminaries as André Breton and Louis Aragon, but the outbreak of war in 1939 curtailed these exchanges.

During the war Mackay was employed by the government in the design of public-information posters and leaflets, but was dismissed for causing widespread confusion with his series of portraits, ‘Ceci n’est pas un German spy’.

After 1945 he devoted himself solely to his art, exhibiting in Glasgow, London, Wick and overseas. His 1954 work, The Virgin Mary Spanking the Infant Jesus, Witnessed by Three Wise Men (the trio being John Knox, J. M. Barrie and Lord Reith) provoked outrage when shown in Edinburgh that year. It was attacked by members of the Balerno Women’s Guild armed with knitting-needles, and was only fully restored when purchased for the nation in 1995.

Mackay’s prolific output of paintings, including Man with His Nose in a Bottle of Grouse, Fife Bananas and Roll on Sausage, ended in 1972, when he abandoned painting in favour of more conceptual work. His most ambitious production in this field – now regarded as the swansong of Scottish Surrealism – was the huge international ‘happening’, involving thousands of participants, entitled Argentina 1978.

Mackay was married to the late Jinty Muchalls, a taxidermist. He is survived by their pet goat.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Guitar: Sorren Maclean
Subscribe here for more stories & music