Jan Patience

THERE were two elephants in the Mitchell Library's Baillie Reading Room last week as I surveyed more than 300 original artworks of all shapes and sizes in the company of painter Alice McMurrough and her artist husband Neil Macdonald.

One of the elephants was the Baillie Reading Room's carpet; a swirly green, black and orange affair with a Celtic knot thing going on. You really and truly don't see carpets like this one any more.

The second elephant was the fact the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Art (RGI) annual exhibition was taking place at all.

"That's the most important thing," McMurrough says as we near the exit after a fly-through of the 153rd Annual RGI Open Exhibition. "This show hasn't taken place for the last two years and now it's back."

Together with fellow RGI council members, Alice and Neil have spent endless unpaid hours helping to shape the 'huge endeavour' of staging the exhibition, which has been staged annually in Glasgow since 1861.

I don't think I'm speaking out of turn when I say there was a time many people involved in the visual arts scene wondered if the RGI's Annual would see the light of day again.

In 2014, it was all set to happen. But with the loss of its newly-reinstated traditional home of the McLellan Galleries on Sauchiehall Street to the Glasgow School of Art following the fire in the Mackintosh Building in May that year, the exhibition was cancelled.

When the open exhibition, which invites all-comers to submit artwork, didn't happen in 2015, the rumour mill filled up with dark tales of artistic in-fighting.

RGI's resident committee – or council – has since worked tirelessly to make sure that this artist-led organisation had a showcase in 2016.

Glasgow Life, the body which delivers cultural, sporting and learning activities on behalf of Glasgow City Council, stepped in with an offer to host the exhibition in the Mitchell Library's main hall.

Unfortunately, this grand old space was subsequently declared out-of-action which left the RGI hunting for a suitably large space.

After a goodly amount of head-scratching and negotiation by RGI president, architect David Dunbar, the Baillie’s Reading Room study space on Mitchell's third floor was offered as an alternative.

A deep wellspring of vision was required to make this room, filled with desks and bookcases, fit for a major art exhibition. But that is what artists and architects do so well.

"The good thing about hosting the exhibition in a building like The Mitchell," says McMurrough, is that is an interesting and busy building. We'll get people looking at the work who might not normally come."

One of the most challenging tasks involved in the Annual is sifting through the artworks submitted. This year, some 1500 works were entered for consideration with 362 accepted.

At any given RGI annual you will see a mighty gathering of some of the great and the good of the visual arts scene, as well as a goodly few newcomers. There is also a section devoted to architecture.

Invited artists include Kelpies creator Andy Scott, David Mach, the artist behind the Big Heids by the side of the M8, Fraser Taylor, GSA graduate who co-founded ground-breaking collective The Cloth, creators of record sleeves for bands such as Spandau Ballet and The Bluebells, and Annie Cattrell, a Glasgow-born and trained glass artist who lectures at the Royal College of Art in London.

There are also memorial artworks by elected RGIs (a merit-based honour awarded by fellow artists), who have recently died. This includes work by David Michie, George Devlin, Jack Knox and James Spence.

Walking around the exhibition, it's impossible not to be struck by the sheer breadth of originality and talent. You won't find film-based work or anything particularly conceptual but if you want to drink in fine art in the form of painting, sculpture or photography, then this is the place to be.

From David Mach's interpretation of the head of Michelangelo's David fashioned from livid yellow matchsticks, to Helen Flockhart's delicate and disquieting oil paintings of figures in a highly detailed and patterned landscape, there's something for all tastes to savour.

Glasgow has been quietly inspiring many of the exhibiting artists, including Tom Allan, who has made a pared-down, quite beautiful Finnieston Crane from black marble, and painter Alastair Strachan, who has been inspired by city centre gridlock. Ron Dekker's black and white photograph Underworld, showing bridges over the Clyde, will also sound a chord of recognition.

It's good to see young artists, such as Corrie Thomson, finding a voice with simple wooden sculptural forms which are all about balance and equilibrium.

The RGI Annual back in business. Catch it if you can. It's only in the building for two weeks. Most of the work is for sale and at prices which, compared to the average John Lewis print, won't make your eyes water.

Royal Glasgow Institute for the Fine Arts Annual Open Exhibition 2016, The Mitchell Library, Granville Street, North Street, Glasgow, G3 7DN. royalglasgowinstitute.org From today until November 27 (Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm. Sun 12pm-5pm) Entry free.

Elizabeth Ann Ogilvie, Green Gallery Dollar, 53 Bridge Street, Dollar, FK14 7DJ

greengallery.com Until 27 November

EVEN as a teenager, in the 1960s, Elizabeth Ann Ogilvie was precociously talented. She won a prestigious art competition organised by the Edinburgh Festival aged 14 and a couple of years later was invited to paint a full-scale mural for a church in Edinburgh near where she grew up.

But despite attending Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee twice, first to study painting, and years later to take a degree in Environmental Interior Design, her career as an artist was a stop-start affair.

Now, having raised a family and run her own interior design business, the Tillicoultry-based painter is having her first solo exhibition at The Green Gallery, Dollar.

Ogilvie's semi-abstract paintings present her highly personal interpretation of how an individual suffering from dementia feels when afflicted by this devastating condition. She was inspired to paint this way after watching the gradual decline of her grandfather, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.

The exhibition came about after Ogilvie went in check out the new Green Gallery in Dollar a few months ago and got chatting to owner Becky Walker.

Walker, who also runs the sister Green Gallery in Buchlyvie, explains: “Over the years I’ve got used to people coming in to the gallery and telling me they went to art school and do a bit of painting. These conversations usually end up with me explaining tactfully I am not looking to show any more artists’ work. But there was something about Elizabeth and her work.

“She told me she’d gone to art school in Dundee and then had a family, run her own interior design business and travelled a bit, absorbing art everywhere she went. She also said she’d been an assistant and worked with renowned Scottish pop art pioneer Eduardo Paolozzi in London until his death in 2005.

“Elizabeth asked if I’d have a look at her work. I was intrigued so I went to her house and I could see immediately that she had something quite special. Her work is quite abstract but the layers she creates draw you in completely. I offered her a solo show because I knew that other people would like it. I've been proved right because the reaction has been amazing.”