No formal training, no background in fine art and spent the majority of his early life doing everything but develop his interest in and talent for painting. By any measure, Robert ("Bob") Grimson is an unconventional artist.
For the last 20 years however, eschewing many of the conveniences available to the modern sailer, he has literally lived his art aboard his classic gaff ketch ‘Meander’, the home he has shared with his wife Jean since 1992. Meander also serves as his studio from where despite the confined space, often complex maritime subjects and scenes are committed to canvas – all with a choice of palette and attention to detail that truly brings to life the often harsh reality, but always the majesty, of working sailing ships from a bygone era. This specialist subject combined with his particular style attracts growing patronage from a number of specialist marine art collectors and his work is on permanent display in numerous galleries on both sides of the Atlantic.
In art, as in his every other exploit, he is largely self-taught - making up for any lack of formal training by a combination of personal drive, energy, dedication and plain hard work!
The Early Years
Born 1945, Bob spent most of his childhood amid the rugged yet beautiful cliff-hanging scenery of the north Devon coast where the seeds of his passion, and deep-rooted empathy, for the sea were sewn from an early age.
Inspired by his environment, Bob’s creative ability was evident at school though he spurned advice to pursue a career in art choosing instead to study full-time at the University of Life. As a teenager, his passions were motor racing and motorcycles and his insatiable appetite for excitement and adventure lured him away from the Grammar School he attended in Ilfracombe, N Devon at the earliest possible opportunity – it having demonstrated a complete inability to relate to such a restless, wilful and rebellious young man. At just fifteen years old, armed with no academic qualifications, Bob went on to explore a wide range of potential careers including mechanic, welder, deckboy on an oil tanker, regular soldier, racing driver, truck driver, salesman, carpenter and, eventually, harbour master and boat builder.
The Thrills and Spills
At nineteen, despite a career as a motorcycle despatch rider for the Army cut short by leg injuries sustained in a serious road accident, he started motorcycle road racing – his single-minded dedication to the sport soon establishing him as a leading amateur at national level and ultimately helping him to realise a boyhood dream when in 1967 he won the coveted Newcomers’ Trophy, riding his Manx Norton around the notorious 38 mile TT circuit in that year’s Manx Grand Prix.
It was natural that with his motorcycle racing days behind him, he should turn back to the sea for direction and inspiration. Married and with 2 young children and a mortgage to support, his first boat was a modest affair: an ageing and very rotten gaff cutter used for day sailing at weekends. However, an appetite for more – much more – soon developed and Bob committed to a hugely ambitious project that would ultimately change the rest of his life: he would sacrifice his home and his job to build his own boat, a 46ft flush deck ferro ketch capable of taking him and his family anywhere in the world. He moved his family into a caravan adjacent to the plot where the build would take place – their house sold to purchase the plans and necessary initial materials. Working part-time, scrimping and saving at every turn, 6 years of hard labour were required to get ‘Carius’ (a derivation of ‘Carry Us’) ready for launch. The boat proved a robust and very competent cruiser – the family twice crossing the Atlantic Ocean during a year-long round trip to the Caribbean.
Sadly Bob’s passion for maritime adventure was not shared in equal measure by his first wife. Their material sacrifices during the build, together with the strain of living aboard for such a long period, proved too much - on their return to the UK, the marriage ended and Carius was sold. Bob was reunited with Jean, whom he had first known when they were at school together - they married in 1987 and it was not long before all their creative talent, skill and now considerable experience were channelled into building a new dream home: a traditional style gaff-rigged ketch large enough to be comfortable yet small enough to be easily handled by one person under sail. Working to his own design and full-time, this build took just 2 years and the result is ‘Meander’ (another derivation – this time of ‘Me and Her’ – continuing Bob’s penchant for semi-cryptic boat names!), a ferro-cement hull of very handsome proportions launched at the tiny harbour of Watermouth in North Devon in 1992 and which served as both Bob’s home and unusual studio.
In 1993 Meander crossed the Atlantic and has since travelled as far south as Venezuela in S America and as far north as Nova Scotia in Canada. She has become a very familiar sight – especially in the Bahamas where, spurning engine power, her five colourful sails drawing, she tacks in and out of even the most crowded anchorage. Her traditional lines and distinctive reddish-brown sails always catch the eye wherever she goes. In 2009 the upkeep of Meander became too much and she was sadly sold. Bob and Jean now live close to the beautiful coast of Pembrokeshire and sail a small gaff cutter out of Fishguard.
His decision, finally, to take up the paintbrush full time was in part inspired by the excellent collection of classic maritime art assembled by the late John Chancellor, but also by his own strong sense of sailing tradition and his admiration for the craft and skill of his sea-faring forebears. Through his work, it is his aim to bring to life much of the detail and all of the spirit of those great days of sail, days now sadly buried in the past. Bobs' highly detailed marine art can be seen in fine art galleries in the UK and USA and can be found in private collections throughout the world. He has had work shown at the prestigious International Marine Art Exhibition at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, USA in 2007, 2008 and in 2010 when his entry won an award of excellence. One of his paintings was presented to H M Queen Elizabeth 2 when she opened the new Heritage Centre at Pembroke Dock and in October 2014 his entry titled 'The Kathleen & May in Mounts Bay' won the Derek Gardner Sea& Sky award at the Royal Society of Marine Artists exhibition in London.
-Workshop Wales Gallery, Manorwen, Fishguard SA65 9QA Tel: 01348 891619
-Picture Parlour – Boscastle, Cornwall, UK
-Russel Jinnishian Marine Art Gallery – Fairfield, Connecticut, USA
-Davidson Fine Art - Totnes, Devon, UK (www.davidsonfineart.com/index.htm
And online at: www.artmarine.co.uk