The history of art is replete with groupings of artists, who – as individuals – probably wouldn't see themselves as belonging to any group. The name, Glasgow Boys, for example, came into being gradually. Its members were a product of a time and a place; namely Scotland in the early 1880s. The common thread was that they all looked to French realism for inspiration while railing against the previous generation of so-called "glue-pots" – artists who produced heavily-varnished landscapes of a romanticised version of Scotland. What's more, the "Boys" weren't even all men…

Almost a century later, Glasgow Herald art critic, Clare Henry, hailed The New Glasgow Boys, a group of young artists who all emerged from the Glasgow School of Art in the 1980s. Again, a fair few Glasgow Girls could reasonably have been included in the mix.

The Unlikely Clan is the latest grouping to emerge from Glasgow's multi-layered contemporary art scene. Cherylene Dyer, Jane Gardiner, Todd Garner, Frank McNab and Nichol Wheatley have come together as a group at Sogo Arts in Glasgow's Saltmarket at the invitation of Garner, who by his own admission puts storytelling at the heart of all his own art.

Even the exhibition's title, Dance once with everyone, pays homage to the late writer and artist, Alasdair Gray, based as it is on lines from his novel, Lanark:

“I intend to dance once with everybody - except the other Joy. I'm going to dance twice with the other Joy."


"Because being unusually kind to someone will give me a feeling of power.”

The show has been more than a year in the making and the landscape of all our lives looked very different when it was first mooted. During the course of 2020, Gardiner, a part-time GP prior to 2020, has returned to medicine full-time, Dyer moved house, while Garner and McNab have both had Coronavirus. Wheatley managed to build himself a new studio during lockdown.

Garner's admiration for the other four artists was his main driving force for inviting them to exhibit as a group. The Unlikely Clan’s common purpose is figurative narrative painting; a genre which is traditionally not as popular in a commercial gallery context as landscape painting or still lifes.

Frank McNab makes the point in the exhibition's handsome catalogue that you won't find any "pretty puddles" here. "The motivation behind this show is, for me, the recognition of those extra layers of meaning which make narrative, figurative, and symbolist art relevant to the human condition. Narrative and symbolist art can portray a thought or an idea. Often the subject of the painting is not what is in the frame, but instead is a portrait of an idea using what is in the frame."

Each artist has five works on show and each painting presents a puzzle to unlock.

Nichol Wheatley had a long-standing association with Alasdair Gray, including working with the celebrated polymath on his large cycle of murals telling the story of Tam o'Shanter at Glasgow's Òran Mór and the nearby Hillhead Underground mural.

Although he says he is a newcomer to figurative painting, this Glasgow School of Art graduate started off as a figurative painter at art school. There is an elegiac warmth to this new figurative work which builds on his personal “Cloud Diaries” project. Glasgow as a Girl marks Wheately out as a king of the crepuscular scene, with gorgeous light spilling in from a setting sun beyond the River Clyde and bell-shaped lanterns at the front. A smiling young girl and two fishes are lit up in the centre of the picture. The girl, with a knife in one hand and a ring in the other, is based on his own daughter. The atmospheric Polly Hidden, with the Òran Mór steeple being viewed by a silhouetted figure perched precariously on a rooftop presents another twilight puzzle.

Cherylene Dyer and Jane Gardiner place portraiture at the heart of all their paintings with almost preternatural skill. Due to an increased workload at the east end medical practice where she is a GP, Gardiner was unable to create new work, but the paintings which she has on show here pulse with colour, texture and pattern.

Birds swarm around the heads of female figures, who stare off to the side or directly at the viewer. The paintings exude a feverish energy which I for one immediately identified with. In Layered, a dark-haired woman stares down pensively at an unseen spot. Around her, layers of blue and brown patterned wallpaper appear to blend into her body.

Dyer's Based on Folklore and Self Contained, are clearly both direct responses to the global pandemic we are living through. The former reveals a female figure holding her hands aloft as though creating a shadow puppet. Around her head, newspaper aeroplanes fly hither and thither. "Help, fake news!", the woman seems to silently scream.

Frank McNab's paintings in this exhibition bring the opposing forces of light and darkness into one almighty symbolist mash-up. In works like Learn From Art Not Murder, Find the Guilt Party and Masks, his imagination has gone on for a giddying walk on the wild side. The conundrum is yours for the taking. The haunting Selkie reveals a mythical Scottish seal girl rescuing a child from the sea in a rubber ring; a protective arm around him as he clutches a toy seal. The background echoes Salvador Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross, which hangs in Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

Todd Garner's paintings; passing scenes from Paris, New York and Hollwood, bustle with telling detail, glamour and brio. Garner, who has been teaching painting at the University of Strathclyde's Centre for Lifelong Learning since 1996, brings lashings of Edward Hopper-style glamour to the modern medium of painting in acrylics.

We have all met his Barstool Philosopher, even if we have never been to Harry's New York Bar in Paris. What is he saying, with his raised finger, and what lives do these barflies lead?

All the paintings in this show are soaked in storytelling. They are not all pretty pictures although technically, they are pretty flawless. They take you to the dark side and plant seeds of unease in quiet corners. I found myself thinking about them long after I'd left the Saltmarket.

The last word goes to Garner. "I like storytelling," he says. "I like the hand of the artist to show, I don’t want my work to represent a frozen moment of time but one that is unfolding as you look... edges that are not sharp, the odd paint brush hair might be caught in the wet paint and they may be slightly out of focus, as if when you look away things might be different when you look back.”

The Unlikely Clan: Dance once with everyone, Sogo Arts, 68 Saltmarket, Glasgow, G1 5LY, 07464 728187,, Open Wednesday – Sunday (opening hours vary - see website for details). Until October 31. Free. Masks and sanitiser available.

Critic's Choice

Camaraderie between artists plays a substantive and perhaps underplayed role in the commercial art world's ecosystem. Take the example of four good friends; Carol Dewart, Jennifer Irvine, Hazel Nagl and Jacqueline Orr. The four women all trained at Glasgow School of Art (GSofA) at different times during the 1970s and 1980s and got to know each other well over the years as they got involved with various artist-led societies. Until recently, however, they had never exhibited together as a group.

Now, the work of the four painters has been grouped together in a new show at the Gullane-based Fidra Fine Art gallery called Colour Palettes, West to East. The name is a play on the fact that all four artists are still based in the west of Scotland, but have turned to the east of the country for this first group show.

Gallery owner, Alan Rae, explains: "I've shown the work of all four before, but when Jacqueline first suggested a group show I immediately envisaged it working as a beautifully balanced body of work. They are all masters of that incredibly vibrant palette for which the GSofA has such a great reputation."

Hazel Nagl, who graduated in 1973 before going on to become resident tutor for several years at the art school's workshop at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, was the conduit for the group's friendship. She first met Irvine at Culzean as student.

The two women became firm friends and through being involved in artist-run bodies such as Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts (RGI), Glasgow Art Club and the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours (RSW), met the other two artists.

Dewart, whose distinctive landscape paintings of Scotland reflects a strong influence of Aboriginal art and its use of distinctive mark-making, says that they are all a product of a particularly strong period in the history of GSofA.

"Over time, each of us has developed our own language and style of painting but the ethos the art school's Drawing and Painting Department from that time is a common factor in how we interpret our genre. The longstanding emphasis on observation and practice at the GSofA allowed each of us to develop a distinct and evolving visual vocabulary, encouraging a unique response to the subject matter that excites us. We're all ‘colourists’ except that our use of colour is very different and may confuse those who associate the term with bright, vivid colours."

Colour Palettes, West to East, Fidra Fine Art, 7-8 Stanley Road, Main Street, Gullane

EH31 2AD, 01620 249389,, Opening hours eg Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 3pm, Sunday 12pm – 3pm. Until October 25. Free.

Don't Miss

The doors of The GoMA (as it's known to every self-respecting Glaswegian), have been closed for more than six long months. The good news is that Glasgow Museum's city centre gallery will reopen this Monday (Oct 5). I for one will be booking myself in for a visit as I've missed this grand old dame of modern art. The gallery has extended its Hal Fischer exhibition in Gallery 3 until December 6 and its two semi-permanent collection shows TASTE! Gallery 2, and Domestic Bliss, Gallery 4, continue.

Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow, G1 3AH, 0141 287 3050,, Open daily, 11am – 4pm. Free but pre-booking is essential via website.