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Art history is full of groupings of artists who certainly wouldn’t consider themselves to belong to any group as individuals. For instance, the name Glasgow Boys appeared gradually. Its members were a result of a time and place in the early 1880s, namely Scotland. What they had in common was that while rebelling against the previous generation of so-called “glue-pots” – artists who created heavily varnished landscapes of a romanticized version of Scotland – they drew inspiration from French realism. What’s more, even the “boys” weren’t all guys….
Almost a century later, the “New Glasgow Boys,” a collective of young artists who all originated in the 1980s from the Glasgow School of Art, were praised by Glasgow art critic Clare Henry. Again, you could easily count a couple of them as Glasgow Girls.
The Unexpected Clan is the newest collective to emerge from the multifaceted scene of contemporary art in Glasgow. At the invitation of Garner, who says storytelling is key to his art, Cherylene Dyer, Jane Gardiner, Todd Garner, Frank McNab and Nichol Wheatley gathered together as a group at Sogo Arts in Glasgow’s Saltmarket.
Even the title of the exhibition is a reference to the late writer and poet Alasdair Gray, “Dance once with everyone,” and is based on lines from his novel “Lanark.”
“I plan to dance once with everyone – except the other Joy. I plan to dance twice with the other Joy.”
“Because it gives me a sense of power to be unusually nice to someone.”
The show has been in the making for more than a year and when it was first launched, the landscape of all our lives looked very different. Gardiner, who was formerly a part-time family doctor, has returned to medicine full-time over the course of 2020, Dyer has moved, while Garner and McNab are also sick with coronavirus. During the lockdown, Wheatley managed to create a new studio.
His principal impetus for allowing them to exhibit as a group was Garner’s appreciation for the other four artists. The common objective of The Unlikely Clan is figurative, narrative painting; a genre not historically as prominent as landscape painting or still life in a commercial gallery setting.
In the handsome exhibition catalog, Frank McNab points out that you will not find “pretty puddles” here. “The motivation behind this exhibition, for me, is to recognize those additional layers of meaning that make narrative, figurative, and symbolist art relevant to human existence. Narrative and symbolist art can represent a thought or an idea. Often the subject of the painting is not what is in the frame, but it is a portrait of an idea using what is in the frame.”
There are five works on display for each artist and each painting depicts a mystery to be unraveled.
Nichol Wheatley worked with Alasdair Gray for a long time, including collaborating on his large cycle of murals with the renowned polymath telling the tale of Tam o’Shanter in Glasgow’s ⁇ ran Mór and the nearby Hillhead Underground mural.
While he claims that he is a beginner to figurative painting, this graduate of the Glasgow School of Art started out at the art school as a figurative painter. This new figurative work, which builds on his “Cloud Diaries,” personal project, has an elegiac warmth. With beautiful light streaming from a setting sun across the River Clyde and bell-shaped lanterns in the foreground, Glasgow as a Girl features Wheately as king of the dusky scene. In the middle of the painting, a smiling young girl and two fish are illuminated. The girl is modeled after her own daughter, with a knife in one hand and a ring in another. Another twilight mystery is posed by the atmospheric Polly Secret, in which the steeple of ⁇ ran Mór is seen by a silhouetted figure perched precariously on a roof.
With almost preternatural abilities, Cherylene Dyer and Jane Gardiner put portraiture at the core of all their paintings. Gardiner was unable to produce new work due to an increased workload at her East End general practice, but the paintings she shows here pulse with color, texture and pattern.
The heads of the female figures, who look off to the side or directly at the audience, buzz around birds. The paintings are exuding a