Scotland’s historic Newbattle Abbey’s brave choice for its first commissioned painting in decades

Newbattle Abbey College, Scotland’s internationally renowned life-changing adult education establishment, broke with tradition when, in January, its Board of Directors commissioned Midlothian artist Colm O’Brien to paint a modern artistic take on its historic 16th century building. This week, on Wednesday 1 June, Principal Ann Southwood was presented with the new painting during a ceremony in which O’Brien confirmed that he had gifted Newbattle Abbey College the rights to the new artwork to help it raise vital funds.

Colm O’Brien is an established artist with strong links to the College through his support for its Christmas Fairs. Working in acrylics, he is best known for his vibrant portrayal of places, particularly cities and towns, which he renders in is trademark rich palate. Formerly a professional musician and singer, around ten years ago he switched his guitar for a paintbrush and, as a result, his work is now widely sought after.

College Principal Ann Southwood said: ‘I am delighted to have made this commission and it is appropriate that gave the task to a local artist. We had admired Colm’s work at our Christmas Fairs and felt that he represented the modern college that we have become. We are very grateful that he is supporting our educational work by gifting the image rights to help our fundraising efforts.

"Colm in many ways embodies the spirit of the College. He returned to art later in life, after his successful business and musical careers, and developing his talent to a very high level, just as many of our adult learners do when they return to studies."

Colm O’Brien added: ‘It’s fantastic working with the College. My studio is in Dalkeith so, as a near neighbour, I am very aware of the important educational work it does. It was an honour to be commissioned - and a brave move by the College's Directors - but also daunting to be producing the first new painting of the college for decades.

"There are few buildings in Scotland with as much presence as Newbattle, or locations where the past and the present come together so dynamically. I’m really pleased to have captured the atmosphere of the place.’'
Colm with his painting of Newbattle Abbey College after it was unveiled.