In 1964 Rory gave up his career in music to focus completely on painting. He had first began to study art seriously at Eton, with Wilfred Blunt, who later described him as “perhaps the most gifted artist to pass through my hands”. He kept sketchbooks during his national service, and painted throughout his university years. “The day I got out of the army... I sat down and painted a rose, and I found to my surprise that my hand had unknowingly educated itself.”
Whilst he was at Cambridge he illustrated Old Carnations and Pinks written by the Rev Oscar C Moreton, and in the early 60’s they went on to collaborate on The Auricula: It’s History and Character, for which Rory produced 17 paintings of auriculas, one of them named in his honor. In 1962, when he was still performing as a musician, Rory had his first exhibition, at Durlacher Brothers in New York. The year after he had four exhibitions, in Paris, New York and two in Edinburgh. His paintings can now be found in museums and collections worldwide.
At the centre of his work were the watercolours on velum; ravishing, luminous 'plant portraits' of flowers, vegetables, and leaves. His deep curiosity in art as a medium for exploration, gave him a wide understanding of, and interest in, contemporary modern art as well as the great masters of the past, and his experiments with abstraction and minimalism, as well as sculpting with glass, perspex, and metal, informed his botanical paintings, and pushed them far beyond the bounds of illustration. ‘At its quintessential best,’ wrote Karl Miller, ‘the art of his later years was to deliver, life size, a single autumn leaf – placed off-centre on a vellum page, with every tint or capillary caught, the tiny brush strokes barely decipherable. Touched with decay, with russet, it might almost be the fallen leaf of requiem or elegy.’
Rory continued to work in London and Scotland, and exhibit across the globe for the next twenty years, until his too early death in 1982 when he was 50.