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Art & Charity Work

By, Sergio Burns

When we meet at his home in Kilbarchan he is preparing to attend a Prince’s Trust charity event. Our time is limited, but he welcomes me with a solid handshake and ushers me inside. John Damari is small but vital, a busy man with a creative personality and two intertwined drives, raising money for charity and producing great art work.

“It’s a retired assistant Chief Inspector of Ayrshire,” John tells Ayrshire Magazine of the top man at Ayr homeless charity Seascape. “He is brilliant and he’s got his people… May Gilchrist, May’s the head fundraiser for Seascape. He is the chap that is the head of Seascape to help them to help the homeless people, there is not only myself as an artist, there are several other Ayrshire artists : Graham McKean, Pat Kramek, James Harrigan for example, who are fantastic people because they do a lot for charities. So there are a group of artists who submit their work and that goes to help the homeless people specifically in Ayrshire.”

His voice tails off as he searches for the former police officer’s name but to no avail (we think he means Niven Rennie, a former police Chief Superintendent who has now moved on from Seascape). He tells me he is not, at the moment, involved with Seascape, but also mentions other charities he supports with his art work, Hansel and Combat Stress at Hollybush House.

“Then the lady provost I think it was,” He picks up the story again. “Four years, maybe longer, five years ago introduced another charity called Veterans First Point. It is a new organisation and it was lady Provost Sloan that kick started it… and I was involved in that, donating paintings…for the charity specifically to deal with soldiers. What I am pleased to see in Scotland for the first time through the Haig Fund is that they are introducing a new memorial poppy for the 1918 war… to raise awareness in young people of the impact of the First World War.”

When he speaks about charity Damari is animated, his eyes widen, his face lights up. He talks about helping to build a holiday home for families and young children in Ayrshire.

“It was the #BUYMSH appeal,” John remembered. “I was involved in that with Steven Brown and other artists, and that was to enable the funding for the new centre… and that’s for… people for respite care in Ayrshire. I was involved raising funds for that on two occasions at Trump Turnberry. I think the first money I raised at the event was £7000 odd giving art work, and people were generous. I believe there was one lady (who) actually bought the two paintings.”

John pauses, he speaks about artist Roddy McKenzie from Croy Bay, and the need for raising money for charity, and we drift gently on to the subject of his own upbringing.

“I lived in Inveraray,” He says quietly. “My mum, in those days, was a parlour maid working in a large estate… and I got brought up on the estate. I got my first position as an apprentice gardener on this large estate. But it wasn’t me. I’ve always wanted to be an artist because my father, when I was younger, encouraged me, because he, in his own right, was an artist. I wanted… to prove to myself, I could become a good artist and against my grandfather’s advice and family members : ‘Aw ye’ll never become rich and ye’ll never make any money’. I wasn’t interested in that, I was wanting to learn about how to paint professionally.”

He falls silent, his eyes twinkle, a thin smile moves slowly across his open, friendly face.

“So,” He suddenly starts up again. “This gentleman, who will remain nameless, gave me my first Scottish one hundred pound note in 1975, and that funded toward my enrolment at the Academia De Firenze in Florence. I failed to get into Glasgow School of Art because I was dyslexic, and I had difficulties with English. I had applied to the Academia in Florence… I actually went there late 74, and I was there until 1978 and I qualified with a BA (Hons) learning the techniques of colour and painting, mainly in oils.”

Damari followed this with an Open University degree in Horticulture, and combined the two in his artwork.

“I get a great pleasure from floral painting,” He revealed. “But also landscape and seascape.”

We wandered through John’s life as an artist, as if we were walking across one of his landscapes or seascapes, a field of rape seed, or poppies, pointing at the red roof houses, standing on a beach with waves creeping onto shore.

“If I was to pick my three favourite artists in the world,” He pondered. “The first one would be from Glasgow School of Art… the second one would be from England and the third one would be from Italy. Hornel(Edward Atkinson Hornel) inspired me because Hornel went to China, he also went to France, but he studied colour and as he got older his palette was fantastic because he could layer the paint on thick. Then for seascapes, Turner, he inspired me. For the Italians it would be Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal). His works of Venice…are just fantastic. My favourite artist is Hornel… his colours, heavy, heavy paint good palette, heavy palette, good colours and uninterrupted texture. Now, for me, texture onto a painting brings it alive, colour brings it alive and for me that’s what art’s about.”

John Damari took me through his own art work online, talking enthusiastically about how he produced his paintings and where he found most inspiration. He pointed at each, told me where it was and the techniques he uses to create his bold, colourful art.

“I was wanting to talk to you about Ayrshire,” He turned to face me. “There is something very interesting about Ayrshire…from an art point. The beaches are wide and open, and they have bold skies and Ayrshire paintings are about the fantastic light. Because it is westerly, particularly in late summer, June, July, the evenings in Ayrshire create this haze. The light quality is fantastic for painting. You have rolling cliff faces, particularly down the Ayrshire coast, places like Dunure. Really old harbours looking straight on to Arran or the Holy Isle, or for example looking out to Ailsa Craig. If you were down, for example, in Croy Bay, a famous one I like to paint, the beach running along to Culzean Castle. If you get that on a nice evening late on, and a sunset, or a bright early morning light, fantastic. Ayrshire scenes are wonderful from that perspective.”

John is fighting time, reminded by his partner of the event they are scheduled to attend.

He has to go, but not before he tells me he has produced around 3500 paintings, half of which he has donated to charity. He has a target of producing 5000 to 5500 works in his lifetime, and wants to paint for as long as he possibly can. To date, he has raised an incredible £1.7 million over 15 years, but wants to reach £3 million.

His next charity project, he told me in an aside, will take place at the Park Hotel, Kilmarnock on November 9, when the tireless John will donate more paintings for the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in an event organised Lesley Laird.

You can do nothing but quietly admire his enormous talent and ability and his selfless attitude to giving.