Private Collection, United Kingdom
Gear was born in Methil, Fife, in 1915. Between 1932 and 1937 Gear won scholarships to study painting at Edinburgh College of Art and following this at the University of Edinburgh where he studied History of Art with David Talbot Rice, the eminent Byzantine scholar. Afterwards he received a traveling scholarship and spent year in Europe, including five months in Paris as a pupil of French abstract painter Fernand Léger.
During the Second World War he served in the Royal Corps of Signals in Europe and the Middle East, but continued to paint, and stage solo exhibitions resulting in 1944 in Florence and Siena and then in Hamburg and elsewhere from 1947. Later in 1946–7 he worked in Germany for the commission dealing with the country’s monuments and art in the wake of the war. Then in 1947 he moved back to Paris and subsequently was one of only two British artists to take part in the CoBrA exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1949.
Gear had previously expressed an early interest in Surrealism and had a brief brush with the Scottish Colourists, though at this time his work at this time was in the mainstream of the École de Paris, using an abstract style but based on nature. Gear once described his paintings as ‘statements of kinship with the natural world’, as they typically used rich colours within a framework of strong black lines, in a manner suggesting stained glass. Like his friend and fellow Scottish painter, Alan Davie, he was also aware of the work of the American Abstract Expressionists, exhibiting alongside Jackson Pollock at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1949.
The degree of the American influence was, however, a sore point with Gear, who preferred to point to innovations in Europe as a source for his work. In 1950 he settled in England and the following year he was one of five painters who was awarded an Arts Council Purchase Prize at the Festival of Britain; the decision caused protest from the press and public, for Gear’s picture (Autumn Landscape, 1950, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne) was the only abstract work among the five chosen and abstract art was at this time still generally regarded with deep suspicion in Britain. From 1958 to 1964 Gear was curator of the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, where his policy of purchasing contemporary art was highly controversial.
In 1964 Gear was appointed Head of the Faculty of Fine Art at the Birmingham College of Art, where he remained until he retired in 1975. In this period, Gear painted dynamic, diagonal black armatures against vibrant detonations of colour, perfecting a new, thrilling evocation of light pulsing through foliage. From the 1970s onwards, the armatures no longer symbolised tree trunks, but jagged and irregular metal off-cuts, though the harsh forms were often complemented by warm tasches of colour. These years also saw him painting softer, more rounded shapes in amongst the hard edges.
He also participated in the CoBrA revival of the 1980s in several countries. He became a Senior Royal Academician in 1995. His work is held in many major public and private collections around the world.