KEVIN Low is clear about what he wants to do with his art. He wants to paint. It's as though a dam has burst and he can't stop it. Standing beside him in the front room of his house in Glasgow's south side gazing at 21 oil paintings he's produced in the last six months, a clear picture emerges of a man on a mission.

Low, who is 55, has been ploughing a creative furrow for many years. But by his own admission it's all been a bit too "clean". Now he has discovered the tang of linseed oil and the lure of the dirty rag, there's no going back. He's already planning his next body of work and he's clearly excited by this new chapter in his creative life.

Low has a track record as a recorder of stories – visually and on the page. He has worked as a photographer in the theatre, written an as-yet unpublished novel, and achieved a fair degree of success with digital paintings, which were an unsettling riff on his childhood in Angus.

Until two years ago, he had not picked up an "actual" paintbrush, with bristles and everything. Once he got started, he found he couldn't stop.

The 21 paintings which make up Women and Men are now all hung in the UNIONgallery in Edinburgh's New Town, where they will remain until after Edinburgh festivals juggernaut has packed up up and left the city. Transplanted from the domestic space of Low's home, where he paints in a converted garage, they simmer and glower.

As author, A.L. Kennedy says in her introduction in the exhibition catalogue, Low has brought all the strands of his previous creative lives together in this new body of work.

Kennedy notes that Low's background as a photographer of stage performance has led to a mastery of lighting "the precisely chosen moments, the drama."

"Here we see figures caught in moments of intimacy and confusion," she writes. "There is a domestic familiarity in some of the nudes, something early morning and blurred. In other frames the silliness, the passion, the obsession and failure of sex all riot about. Bodies retreat, turn, shift, present themselves, with and without balloons.

"Kevin's viewpoint is photographic, it picks the angles, the moments, it doesn't judge. But there is drama here, too. The fall of light is theatrical, cunning. Sometimes bodies have partners that are visible and simple, sometimes they seem to be making love to shadows, being preyed upon by shadows, even devoured. The brightness of skin seems to flare up out of liquid darkness. And behind each human drama lies a backdrop, a wild blending of night and the blood red one would find in Goya, in a closed eye facing light. It could be the colours of sex, love, anger, death - the joy of these pieces is that Kevin sets the scenes, conjures the cast and leaves us to decide."

Kennedy rightly picks up on the many layers of tension which ripple through this body of work. Place men and women in a room with few props for company and all sorts of sparks will fly. It's the spaces in-between which pulsate with energy. Quite literally.

Darkness envelopes all these paintings. One painting of a clothed woman from the shoulders down to thigh, shows her with hand on hip, a recently-lit cigarette between her long fingers. For some reason, I can't stop looking at that roughly triangular space between her arm and her body. It's mesmerising.

Another reveals the white swathe of a woman's bare back and bottom. She is lying on a dark blue cover and from a curtain a set of bodiless hands reach out to touch her. It's erotic and a puzzle all at once.

Standing, looking at the paintings with Low by my side, I tip my black beret in his general direction for having the confidence to throw himself into this painting lark with no formal training. He has been building up to it, of course, by photographing figures and digitally painting them – but to paint them in oil is a different matter altogether.

Drawing and painting the figure representationally is the most complex operations an artist can perform. There's no doubt that Low has an adept hand and eye when it comes to both. He has gone for the most ridiculously complicated angles – all without attending life drawing classes. If I was being picky, looking at a couple of the paintings, I'd say he would benefit from this discipline.

One of the other things which struck me is how smooth the surface of the paintings are… I was expecting a bit more roughness round the edges. It's as though the photographer in Low can't shake off the need to keep his surface smooth with that dirty rag.

But these are petty quibbles. These paintings pulsate with raw energy and drama. They stay in your mind's eye for a long time after you leave the room.

Kevin Low: Women and Men, UNIONgallery, 4 Drumsheugh Place, Edinburgh, EH3 7PT, 0131 225 8779 Until September 9