New Skye Gallery brings celebrated artist’s studio back into use

Robert MacAskill displays some of the work in the new Isle of Skye Gallery, formerly the studio of the late artist Tommy MacKenzie. Photo credit: Willie Urquhart – WHFP.

The former studio of the late, much-loved and acclaimed artist Tommy MacKenzie was reopened as a new gallery space in Skye this week by a local businessman.

Robert MacAskill, owner of the Relish Deli in Wentworth Street, Portree took on the studio following the passing of Mr MacKenzie in March last year and has decided to open it as the ‘Isle of Skye Gallery’, maintaining the space’s connection to the rich arts legacy set in place by the former Glasgow Print Studio member.

Born in Shetland in 1947, Tommy MacKenzie moved to Portree a year later and, after attending the local high school, he went on to study at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. In 1971 he was accepted into the prestigious Hornsey School of Art, where he made his mark in etching and printmaking with his graduation piece ‘At the Ebb’ being selected for exhibition in the Royal Academy Summer Show.

After further enhancing his reputation and craft as a member of the Glasgow Print Studio, which he joined in the mid-70s, Tommy returned to Portree in 1983 and founded Skye Original Prints.

A combination of gallery and workshop – that drew in many visitors- the space also provided a base for the printmaker to create works which he would go on to sell around the world.

With the Isle of Skye Gallery opened this week, the former creative hub of the celebrated Sgitheanach artist could act as an exciting platform for current talent on the island.

“I thought it was just a nice open space which lends itself to a gallery”, Mr MacAskill told the Free Press. “It just needed a wee bit of decorating really. I think it is a good space for local artists and photographers to show their work.”

Among the works being displayed in the gallery are those of Tommy’s brother Rory, who contacted Robert MacAskill when he heard a gallery would be opening up in the old studio space. Photo credit

As well as welcoming new artists, the gallery’s ties to Tommy will also remain intact through a connection with one of his siblings, as Robert explained.

“Tommy’s brother Rory has some work in the gallery – which is quite a nice connection,” Robert said. “He does landscapes – mostly small works which are water-based.

“He heard I was renovating the gallery and gave me a call – I had no idea he painted, and I was delighted when he phoned up and asked.”

The Portree businessman added: “I have about a dozen different artists and photographers – six of which are showing work at the gallery already. Jeremy Rossiter is one, he was the first person I spoke to.

“I also have work from a couple from Skeabost, Gill Williams, who is a photographer, and her husband Ian Williams – who is more of an abstract painter.

“What I like might or might not be what other people like, so I am intrigued to see how things go.”

Robert said that he planned to open the gallery through to at least October and would operate on a commission basis, giving the artists the freedom to price the work themselves.

He added: “A lot of galleries just focus on professional artists, but I want it to also be a place where amateur artists and photographers can sell their work.”

He went on to say: “When people are buying something, especially work that’s expensive, it’s better to see it in the flesh than on a computer. It’s a platform for people to sell their work, and I am just acting as an agent, selling it for them and supplying the location.”

He added: “We are calling it the Isle of Skye Gallery – keeping it simple. That way everyone knows where it is, and it doesn’t prioritise one type of artwork over another. We have a Facebook page — Isle of Skye Gallery, and we’re on Instagram too — it’s not my forte but it’s a good platform to promote it.”

In addition to his artistic achievements, Tommy MacKenzie was also a well-known and popular member of the community, who served as the Skye Highland Games Chieftain.

Mr MacAskill told the Free Press that while the gallery was due to open this week, an official launch would take place next month.

With 9th March marking the one-year anniversary of Tommy’s death, perhaps the new crop of artists present will draw inspiration from the indelible impression left by the gallery’s former incumbent as the space is brought back into use.

For more information on the Isle of Skye Gallery, including inquiries
about exhibitions, you can visit the gallery’s Facebook page.

Article by Adam Gordon