Kirkcaldy is a town built on coal, pottery and lino (you can still catch a whiff of that evocative smell if the wind blows offshore). It is often bypassed by tourists drawn to Edinburgh or north to the Highlands.
A rich mercantile past and a supportive Fife Council allow this medium-sized town to punch above its weight a little when it comes to arts. Kirkcaldy seems to be suffering the same recession issues as most British towns. There are boarded-up, paint-peeling nightclubs, empty shops and thistles growing from lofty rooftops and windows. There are small groups of teenagers in tracksuits with growling Staffordshire bull terriers, but you could say the same for Dundee or Stoke or Milton Keynes.
Fife is enjoying a bit of an artistic surge. It could be a cultural desert with all the fuss going on down the road at the Edinburgh Festival, but Fifers can point smugly to novelists Ian Rankin and Iain Banks, people’s favourite painter Jack Vetrianno and writer Isla Dewar among others. Their art has roots here and doesn’t get on the train and head off when the Festival hoardings come down.
Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery is currently showing McTaggart’s Children – an exhibition that wouldn’t shame any city gallery as a centrepiece. I wrote a story last autumn having been inspired by a MacTaggart painting (The Storm) in the National Galleries off Princes Street. Kirkcaldy has a collection on loan from private and public collections on show, along with its own pieces. Some of McTaggart’s work can seem typically sentimental and Victorian. You might hear someone sniff and say ‘chocolate box’ which is a little harsh, but much of the artist’s work is raw and surging with energy. He loved the sea and his flecks of titanium white surf and heavy, graphite skies capture the ferocious unpredictability of the Scottish coast. He understood and respected the ocean though, for there is little sentimentality here as men in hats and oilskins dash for cover. Next door, is a small selection of Scottish Colourists’ work. The vibrant oils of Cadell, Peploe and Fergusson are wonderful, especially on gloomy, cloudy afternoons. Today is warm but threatening a faint drizzle. Brown tourist signs direct you to the exhibition from far out of town. It’s well worth a visit and a credit to Kirkcaldy.