The death of artist Robbie Neish, just shortly before his 50th birthday, was a shock to his wide circle of friends – even those who knew of the illness that began to afflict him in 2003. It was thought to be a form of Parkinson's Disease, and it meant that Robbie's muscular functions were shutting down. The disease took the form of a series of sharp declines interspersed with periods of stability that were quite lengthy at first, but became progressively shorter. These stable periods raised the false hope that Robbie could pull through, especially as his spirit and sense of humour remained unbowed, even at the stage when he could no longer pick up a pen and draw. On behalf of Windfall Press I gave him a commission just a few weeks before the illness struck. It was the scene on the deck of a Stornoway steamdrifter (shown below), and he was determined to see it through. I vividly remember not only his satisfaction when he handed over the job, exquisitely completed as usual, but also his look that silently told me he knew the drawing was his last.
Robbie completed many commissions throughout his working life, and the logos he drew remain around Stornoway as a daily reminder of his ability. The most poignant for me is the tree logo of Stornoway Primary School, for it was there on the maroon jersies of my grandson and his friends when they came running out of school.
Robbie was a mix of Lewis and Glasgow, and while he completely understood the island perspective, he combined it with a sharp and highly irreverent Glesca wit. Quirks of island life fascinated us both and we discussed them often. One of the results was a story called The Visitors (above left) about a drouthy Lewis bachelor who becomes convinced that world political figures are coming to stay with him in his crumbling crofthouse. Robbie's vision of the tale was sublime – it sums up both his sense of humour and his meticulous graphic style. With Robbie's death we lost a unique artistic hand, and a lively intelligent conversationalist in whose company it was a pleasure to set the world to rights. GS