Keep your eye on Pais­ley show

The Herald - Arts - - VISUAL ART - JAN PA­TIENCE The 128th Annual Ex­hi­bi­tion of Pais­ley Art In­sti­tute is at Pais­ley Mu­seum & Art Gal­leries un­til 26 June

THE THREADS which tied in­dus­try, art and cul­ture to­gether in the once mighty mill town of Pais­ley and its sur­round­ing vil­lages formed a rich and com­plex pat­tern. You only have to park be­side Pais­ley Mu­seum and Art Gal­leries and walk past the hand­some cathe­dral-like Gothic red sand­stone that is Coates Memo­rial Bap­tist Church to clock the fact that Pais­ley once was a place of Sig­nif­i­cance.

Last year the ven­er­a­ble Vic­to­rian dowa­ger that is Pais­ley Art In­sti­tute (PAI) cel­e­brated two cen­te­nar­ies; the first the gift­ing of four gal­leries at Pais­ley Mu­seum and Art Gal­leries by thread man­u­fac­tur­ing baron Sir Peter Coates and sec­ond, the start of the Pais­ley Art In­sti­tute Col­lec­tion. PAI, founded in 1876, had its roots in the Pais­ley School of Art and De­sign, formed to en­cour­age di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion in the textile in­dus­try.

Some of Pais­ley’s sons and daugh­ters are weel kent names. Artist, writer and Bud­die John Byrne started as a Slab Boy with AF Stod­dard & Son in Elder­slie. But Pais­ley has been in the wars in re­cent years. Its ma­jor in­dus­tries packed up years ago and its cen­tre suf­fered se­ri­ous de­cline. Now as you drive through its one-way sys­tem, bright­ly­coloured hoard­ings catch the eye.

They are ad­ver­tis­ing Pais­ley’s bid to be­come UK City of Cul­ture in 2021. But wait, you might ex­claim, isn’t Pais­ley a town not a city? As Pais­ley 2021 project di­rec­tor Jean Cameron de­clares on her Twit­ter feed, “We know we’re Scot­land’s largest town and not a city. That works for UK CoC [City of Cul­ture] bid.”

The bid is an in­spired piece of think­ing by Ren­frew­shire Coun­cil, which has in­vested £22m, with money go­ing into arts and her­itage ini­tia­tives. The jewel is an am­bi­tious £56.7m scheme to up­grade Pais­ley Mu­seum and Art Gal­leries, the home of PAI’s annual ex­hi­bi­tion.

Open to artist mem­bers of the In­sti­tute and all-com­ers, this year there is 464 paint­ings, orig­i­nal prints and sculp­ture. You’ll find work from es­tab­lished artists to com­plete un­knowns. The stan­dard varies, but if you’re look­ing to see some of the finest pain­ters they are al­most all rep­re­sented and most of the work is for sale.

Among hun­dreds of paint­ings you’ll find a small self-por­trait which of­fers a por­tal into Pais­ley’s rich past. The paint­ing is by Denise Find­lay, great-great grand­daugh­ter of fa­mous di­rec­tor of the Glas­gow School of Art (GSA), Fra New­bery and his artist wife Jessie New­bery, nee Rowat.

In this del­i­cate side-on paint­ing, Denise show her­self wear­ing a Re­form Dress (a Glas­gow-born rev­e­la­tion in de­sign which forced fash­ion’s hand away from re­stric­tive corsetry) which is in PAI’s col­lec­tion. The dress was made at the GSA by Frances Holme An­der­son, daugh­ter of PAI founder, James An­der­son. There is work by Bud­dies at every turn, in­clud­ing the won­der­fully un­der­stated He­len Wil­son, who this year won one of PAI’s premier award, The Arnold Clark Award (£1000) for an as­sem­blage called Pri­mary Colours.

For this work, Wil­son has turned an old water­colour paint­box into an in­stal­la­tion. On the left-hand side there’s a young girl stand­ing awk­wardly in school uni­form, pre­sum­ably a selfpor­trait of Wil­son in her school days. On the right hand side of the box, you see a pile of school­bags. Be­side the paints (the white block has a type­set-style ‘a’ drawn on in pen­cil), is a small col­lec­tion of tiny tawses, pos­si­bly in­di­cat­ing the rea­son why the girl is look­ing so scun­nered. Turner Prize win­ners eat your heart out.

As al­ways PAI shows the work of two guest artists. This year’s guest painter is Kurt Jack­son, an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist who has been artist in res­i­dence aboard a Green­peace ship, as well as at the Eden Project and Glas­ton­bury Fes­ti­val. All three paint­ings ex­hib­ited were painted in Scot­land. His large paint­ing Golden Ea­gle Above Me takes cen­tre stage in the main gallery and mixes up land­scape with a fizz of ab­stract tex­tures and text.

This year’s guest sculp­tor is Sir John Steell (1804-1891). I have to con­fess I knew noth­ing of his work but he was one of the most em­i­nent Scot­tish sculp­tors of the Vic­to­rian gen­er­a­tion. Un­usu­ally for the pe­riod, as a Scot­tish sculp­tor, he main­tained both an in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic ca­reer while based in Ed­in­burgh. Many of his best known pub­lic mon­u­ments are in Ed­in­burgh. He was the man who made Sir Wal­ter Scott in the Scott Mon­u­ment on Princes Street. Another well-known statue is his Duke of Welling­ton on a rear­ing horse out­side Reg­is­ter House up the street.

The Steell bronze on show here is a ma­que­tte in the col­lec­tion of Pais­ley Mu­seum of em­i­nent Vic­to­rian ad­vo­cate and writer, Pro­fes­sor John Wil­son, who wrote un­der the name of Christo­pher North. The real thing is to be found ad­ja­cent to the RSA build­ing on The Mound in Ed­in­burgh in East Princes Street Gar­dens.

There’s much to savour in this ex­hi­bi­tion and in this town. As Ben­jamin Dis­raeli once opined: “Keep your eye on Pais­ley.”

De­tail from Self-Por­trait with Re­form Dress by Denise Find­lay, which is among the hun­dreds of paint­ings, orig­i­nal prints and sculp­ture at the 128th Annual Ex­hi­bi­tion of Pais­ley Art In­sti­tute

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