l Life and times I - ofa
Glasgow artist Ally
Thompson has earned himself acclaim abroad, but remains an unknown entity in Scotland. Fiona 5 Shepherd unravels the mind of a surrealist.
main strands to his work. His studio
The eyes keep wandering to the largest canvas in the room. depicting a dark. abstract tangle of wood like some foreboding fairytale forest. its painter. unsung Glaswegian artist Ally Thompson. is simultaneously talking about the first picture he remembers drawing. aged seven. While the rest of his class drew blue-skied landscapes. he rebelled against classroom discipline and painted a range ofdark. jagged mountains and a blood-red sky.
The tables were drastically turned on him years later after leaving art school when he became an art teacher. ‘That was an incredible experience.‘ he says. ‘l was lucky to come out alive. i remember being trapped in a storeroom with these pupils trying to suffocate me with fixative. i got an injury pension from that.‘
Thompson subsequently spent time in New York and Paris gaining recognition for his bold and varied work. which draws inspiration from and displays stylistic links with artists as diverse as Picasso. Bosch and Howson. He remained a relatively unknown quantity in Britain.
N Ally Thompson: creating his own brand of 5 surrealism ;
Thompson readily identifies three
houses some examples of his landscapes — colourful. small-scale work with thick. textural brushwork. He proudly displays his commercially successful ‘businessman' figures. :1 style he developed while living and working in New York. The portrayal of the stocky characters exhibits a strong kinship with the work of his old friend and contemporary Peter Howson. albeit in a far more colourful style.
However. his surrealist work consumes him most at the moment. and he happily accepts the mantle ‘The Glaswegian Surrealist'.
‘I don't exactly know who it was that coined that phrase. but it seems to be quite a good one.‘ he says. ‘Surrealism is something which has really not been hyped or focused upon yet in Glasgow. The Glasgow art scene has been i obsessed with the figure in painting to r the exclusion of some ofthe other ! major art movernents.‘ i
All the time l'm thinking. the walk | along Gallowgate past the Barras to l
Thompson's studio can be a pretty surreal one. but that's a mischievous notion. Thompson explains with some
gravity that ‘the surrealist has a highly original turn of mind and he'll find source material wherever.’
Although not impenetrable. the surrealist body of work which makes up his share of the exhibition is the least accessible. but also the richest strand of his output. Thompson points out that the Parisian origins of surrealism make it the preserve of an intellectual elite rather than the casual gallery browser. [lit surely he doesn't want to limit his potential audience?
‘Fora long spell. the idea of someone buying a painting was almost irrelevant. because there is an
' i egocentric aspect to the way you pursue it. You’d still paint if you were on the
moon. it's an obligation.
‘The ideal would be to have as many people as possible understanding what you're about. You can compromise to appeal — it‘s whether the quality of your message is more important than the amount of people who understand it.’
This is not to say Thompson's surrealist landscapes are especially esoteric. but they are pregnant with possible interpretations.
‘l'm trying to sum up a feeling of alienation.‘ he elaborates. ‘There is a general moral decline in society as i see it that was forged during Thatcherism. where the business ethic took control and materialism seemed to seize everyone.‘
Thompson‘s preoccupation with an inner revolution finds its appropriate expression in his brooding Wagnerian canvases. he explains. ‘because it‘s
2 involved in the subconscious. There‘s potential for all society because the
I subconscious is the one area that. with all our science. is still unknown. The
actual mystery is between our ears. our
own myth. if that can be put on canvas
it can release so many things’.
All_\' Thompson: The Glaswegian Surrealist. William Hardie Gallery. Glasgow Fri 5 May—2 Jane. See A rt listings.
Because getting noticed can be tough for artists fresh out of college, no matter how much determination and talent they have, Glasgow’s Art Exposure gallery must be like a knight in shining armour for the aspiring artisans of Scotland.
Founded by John lleuston in 1989, the gallery exhibits work by young artists all year round, sometimes managing to raise sponsorship for them. For Maylest, Art Exposure is having an open competition and exhibition of small works - 12in by 12in or less - priced up to £300. The competition has no theme or artistic criteria, but the quality of work is high and the range broad and interesting.
‘We didn’t want to make any criteria,’ says lleuston. ‘We wanted people to come in and make the criteria.’ It is an ethos reﬂected in this year’s Mayfest, which has accessibility at its heart.
The style of work submitted to the exhibition varies. lt ranges from Ian Faulkner’s literal, but evocative
. ' Tim Cockbum’s humorous look portrait Laura, to Jacqui Solomons’s humorous pencil-drawn figures set against bright, primary colours, curiously titled: Because his wife’s smile was so dazzling, Ralph permanently wore sunglasses. This, of course, was less noticeable when holidaying abroad.
Solomons explains she is ‘creating an alternative history half-based on reality’. The pencil drawings are from a photograph of her grandmother and grandfather and the bright backgrounds are a nostalgic representation of her own childhood. ‘I
sf~» r )w
'J'J-T.§?.“."w .. .-'. ‘ d is part of
at the art wort the Art Exposure Open think you always remember things from childhood in bright colours,’ she says.
The exhibition - also a competition - includes work from students at Glasgow School of Art, such as third year student Donna Elrick’s Sheltered in The Light and Denis Findlay’s Self Portrait. The artists are competing for a £200 prize, among others. Visitors are invited to vote for their favourite painting. (Philip Cowan)
The Art Exposure Open, Art Exposure, 19 Pamie Street, Glasgow, until 29 May. See Art listings.
Ooctor Wood by James McDonald (1995) Despite poking fun at each other. there‘s an obvious camaraderie in the good-natured banter flying between these three painters. James McDonald. Neil MacPherson and Douglas Thomson have been friends since their student days in the 70s and are some of the most popular and successful artists working in Scotland today. lt‘lplt’ Vision is their first joint show.
There‘s something perverse about the bizarre j uxtapositions of everyday objects in James McDonald‘s super realist still lifes that is far from traditional. McDonald says he‘s got a thing about glossy magazines and home shopping catalogues and he certainly has a knack for making ordinary things seem almost pomographic. His painstaking reproductions of anything from graffitied banknotes. cubes of soft yellow butter and partially devoured fruit are impressive. in one painting. white satin underwear nestles against a heavy metal carburettor leaving an impression which is faintly seedy and fetishistic.
Neil MacPherson‘s work reveals a romantic nature. Scottish mythology and timeless legends are the starting point for his paintings of surreal figures in rural landscapes. The traditional Celtic belief that everyone has a guiding spirit in the form of an animal is depicted in his painting of an eloping couple on a horse. Macl’herson’s work is inspired by ancient myths and stories. and the rich. bright colour schemes are a reflection of the clear light of Caithness where Thomson likes to work.
Douglas Thomson paints human figures with monumental heads from imagination. Piercing eyes stare out from beneath furrowed brows. They are sometimes the only light in an otherwise dark canvas, scratched out of the heads giving a brooding expression and an impression of dark foreboding. The paint is repeatedly layered and rubbed away and. because Thomson has to wait for each layer to dry before he can work on it. he has about twenty paintings on the go at once. The result is a surface that sometimes looks like distressed denim with colours that glow through each other creating a luminous quality which adds a certain sensitivity to the imposing faces. (Gill Roth) Triple Vision is at the Glasgow Print Studio until 27 May.
The List 5-18 May 1995 21