It takes just three words to describe Paisley’s largest ever open art exhibition: exciting, inspiring and inclusive.
The ‘Welcome’ message in the catalogue says it all: ‘We believe art is for everyone and the experience of art, the making of it, the taking part, is a bold act of representation that belongs to us all’. The emphasis on inclusivity has been deliberate – the Big Art Show is not only for the professional and trained artist but has been entirely open to enter, using any artform, for entrants of all ages, from 8 upwards.
The organisers, Outspoken Arts and Art Paisley, and the many dedicated volunteers associated with this, are to be congratulated on mounting a wonderful show. The hanging of the exhibition took almost four weeks and is the result of a year’s work overall. The response to the call-out for submissions, as relayed by artmag.co.uk, was huge – over 1,200 pieces were submitted and around 1,000 of these were selected for display – to the extent that additional partitions had to be built during the hanging process to accommodate the large number of works accepted. There are works from about 370 artists on show, from Paisley, Renfrewshire, Glasgow, Scotland and beyond, with international entries too – one artist, Enzo Marra, flew in from Rome to deliver his work in person!
The show will hopefully be seen by a wide audience, indeed it is well located to do so. It is taking place in ‘The Art Department’, 2-10 Causeyside Street, Paisley, a former department store and originally the headquarters location of the Paisley Co-operative and Manufacturing Society, now developed as a temporary arts centre to operate for the next two years, with the Big Art Show its first major showcase. And this exhibition is very big indeed, the visual impact is significant as soon as you see the gallery space. It is a bewildering but happy task to decide where to begin to view almost 1,000 art works!
There is a great quantity of work, but it is soon evident that there is also much of high quality. Here we have a celebration of creativity after the isolation and struggles we have all had to go through in the last two years.
The subject matter is very wide-ranging: portraiture and figurative; landscapes, cityscapes and architecture of Scotland and beyond; abstracts; still life; wildlife, and across many mediums: paintings and drawings, sculpture and 3-dimensional work, photography and digital art. Works have been grouped for exhibition approximately by subject – portraiture, cityscape, landscape, abstract.
There is ‘Art in the Windows’ on Causeyside Street with three featured artists – Penny Wemyss (landscapes), Nancy Sheppard Docherty (inspiration from travels) and Marion Back (a contemporary abstract artist), and there is a dedicated Society of Scottish Artists area within the exhibition, featuring works from ten selected SSA artists. It will be a confidence boost for an absolute beginner to see their work on the wall alongside others, including established professional artists, and to be part of such a significant exhibition.
There are Paisley landmarks amongst the works – the Abbey, Town Hall, the Coats Memorial Church, and Paisley stories too are told in works such as Snails are Neighbours Too by Paul Anderson and Underwood Lane – As I See It, a detailed urban landscape by Lil Brookes.
Some works of course relate to experiences of the Covid pandemic, including Furloughed by John Stirling (and after Picasso) and One Percent, a mixed media figure in NHS surgical uniform by Lorna Pirrie, which is sure to stir emotions.
Edinburgh artist Lindsey Lavender has several striking architectural paintings in the show, depicting sunlight and shadows cast by the structural forms of staircases.
Angela Helena Pieraccini’s colourful large-scale abstract sculptures entitled Joy appear to be on the move across the floor of the gallery.
Liam McGrady’s oil painting Take Me Out Again, of a night time illuminated pub frontage makes a visit for a pint appealing.
Comfort Blanket is a group piece by the Art Therapy Group from Leverndale Hospital, which is a perfect example of collective participation in an artistic pursuit.
Elsa is a beautiful watercolour collage by Diane Cook that took the eye: this watercolour portrait is surprisingly enhanced by applied decorative earrings and necklace.
Rise, an oil by Mark Mulholland (who has several works in the show) is a striking and accomplished figurative work, set against a thought-provoking imagined industrial landscape.
Dylan Mackenzie’s super eye-catching and colourful abstracts The Light of Souls, numbered 1 to 4, have been much commented upon by visitors already, and definitely appealed to this viewer.
Most of the works are for sale, priced across a wide range. The percentage that the Big Art Show retains from the works sold will be re-invested in future arts projects for public benefit. There is surely something to appeal to everyone. Noddy Holder, a pencil drawing by May Low, is sadly not for sale.
There is so much to see, taking more than one trip round you will undoubtedly be rewarded in seeing many pieces you missed at first. As with any big exhibition, there may come a point of ‘visual overload’, so take a break for a coffee, or come again another day, it is well worth a return visit. Oh, and let’s add a fourth word of description to those at the beginning – joyful!
Entry is free, and an 84-page printed catalogue is available, price £5.
With thanks from Artmag to Gordon Reid for this review, and to Steven Thomson and Lisa Watt of Outspoken Arts Scotland for all their kind help with this review.