Tony has a real passion for his art

WHAT do you do if you grow up on an estate in a tough mining area with a passion for art that no one encourages?

Wednesday, 10th February 2010, 10:54 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th February 2010, 10:54 am

Perhaps few people would have the drive to do what one successful Duns-based artist has done - make enough money to open his own gallery to sell his own paintings.

Tony Huggins-Haig started selling his paintings only a few years ago and already they are commanding prices of up to 4000, with one commissioned recently for former Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Not only that, but his gallery in Kelso which, as well as his own work, exhibits the work of international, local and national artists, has recently expanded.

Like the famous Scottish artist Jack Vettriano, Tony is self taught and disputes that you have to have a degree to be good at painting.

"People that are self-taught are completely original," he points out. "I have had a lot of difficult times to get where I am now but it is a passion - just what I have always wanted to do."

Born 45 years ago in Boulmer, Northumberland, Tony always loved painting but found that his talent went unrecognised.

He didn't do particularly well at school - later he was diagnosed as dyslexic - and entered a series of YTS schemes when he left.

He joined the army for six years and served in both Germany and Northern Ireland.

He carried on painting even though it earned him some stick from his fellow soldiers. He says the army gave him drive as well as a thirst for education.

"You don't finish at 5pm in the army - you have to keep going until the job is done," he points out.

"The other thing I learned is that education opens doors. A lot of the officers talked down to us, but the only thing that made them officers was that they had A levels, so I thought I would try education."

He was accepted to study engineering geology at Sunderland University. "I loved it but it was a shock to the system," he remembers.

"I had a problem because although I knew my stuff, I wasn't getting very good marks."

It was discovered that he is dyslexic, but despite that, he gained a Bachelor of Science degree with a Masters in waste management and got a job as environmental protection officer with Northumberland County Council.

"When I joined, my boss said that I seemed to believe in education, he was going to send me on every training course going. I did 26 in two years. I was also renovating a house at the time, but I still managed to keep on top of the paperwork."

However, after three years Tony left.

"I ended up running their waste management scheme as a freelance," he said. As well as doing that he got more involved in buying property and renovating it, which is how he met his wife, Yvonne Haig, who is a surveyor.

The couple married in December 2001 and became Huggins-Haig.

By this time they had also set up their own property management company.

They designed and built their home just outside Duns and began decorating it with Tony's painting and the work of other artists.

When an art dealer was delivering one of these paintings he spotted Tony's work and told him he should be selling it.

The couple decided that the best way to do this was to open a gallery, so they refurbished a shop in Kelso. It opened four years ago and has been a success with Tony being commissioned to paint for Tony Blair.

The painting was given to Mr Blair as a present from his constituency.

Tony's paintings are now bought by people world-wide.

"I was always painting but I always thought I could not be an artist because where I came from, you were expected to go down the pits or be a ship builder. I was always told I needed to get a proper job. Well I've done that, and now I can be, and I am, an artist."