As students a few years apart on the Glasgow School of Art’s ground-breaking environmental art course, mother and daughter,

Hilary Nicoll and Zoe Buchanan, were told “context is everything”.

David Harding, whose own career as a renowned public artist has followed this mantra, instigated the course in 1985 and taught at the art school until he retired in 2001. He joked that the pair were the first mother and daughter he had ever taught.

Today, Nicoll who graduated as a mature student in 1995 and Buchanan, who followed on eight years later, have taken the idea that a fine art practice should be driven by ideas, context and the external world and run with it.

As partners in a new pop-up venue and art gallery, called Nicolls, in Glasgow’s west end, they have had a slightly bumpy ride – like many businesses in 2020.

Mother and daughter first took ownership of the former locksmiths

on Partick’s Dumbarton Road a year ago and, fired up by the possibilities of the original Victorian features which were vaguely imprinted on the interior, set to work.

Their restoration of the exterior of the unit, which dates to 1899, was completed by Christmas but in the process, the two women discovered a host of treasures, including a rare enamelled Bournville cocoa sign from 1906. This rare “ghost sign” emerged from beneath layers of plastic and vinyl as they stripped the shop’s features away.

They also stumbled across a smaller Bovril sign with “closed on Tuesdays 1:00” above the front door.

The small elegant space, with its black feature fireplace and pristine walls, was set to formally open in March as a pop-up gallery and space for workshops, talks, meetings, book groups, pop-up shops and product launches.

An unofficial opening of the venue was held just before Christmas last year, featuring a retrospective of the artwork of Nicoll’s late partner,

Robert Stewart. With locals and friends buying into the idea, Nicolls diary began to fill up.

“The shop was nearly but not quite finished,” says Nicoll, “but we wanted to make people aware of it. Our first official exhibition in the space, by Glasgow-based artist and musician, Peter Kelly, was due to open on the weekend of March 13 but, because of Covid-19, it didn’t happen.

“There was a bit of a delay, but we were so pleased when Pete’s show, featuring his distinctive paintings, drawings and T-shirts finally opened last weekend.”

The current restrictions on social gatherings have put paid to the pair’s plans to hold life drawing, talks and events in the small space, but there’s a packed schedule of exhibitions

and pop-ups in the diary until the end of the year.

Artists who have exhibitions planned in the space in the coming months include; Anne Goldrick, Susan Fair and Fraser Taylor of The Cloth fame.

“The space lends itself to a few people being in it at one time,” says Buchanan. “Our queues become quite sociable. When the Glasgow PlantMama took it over in August, when we reopened and the queue stretched all the way town the street towards the Thornwood roundabout!

“She has an incredible following and is holding another house-plant sale on the weekend of December 15-17.”

Although Covid took out a whole six months of Nicolls planned first year, there is a feel-good air to the space, with its perjink fin de siècle aesthetic and community vibe. Hilary Nicoll has form in creating spaces which foster a creative community.

She previously worked as an art teacher at HMP Shotts Education Unit, Addiction Unit and Special Unit and at Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School in Dumbarton before setting up Albert Drive Studios in Glasgow’s south side.

Housed in a Victorian villa, Albert Drive Studios ran from 2010 until 2013 and became an independent studio facility for small creative businesses; running a vibrant a programme of arts events, exhibitions and leisure classes including Dining at Albert Drive, a supper club which Nicoll ran with her friend Eta.

The draw of The Retreat, an old cottage with a considerable overgrown garden, cultivated by a botanist, saw Nicoll relocate to Argyll before returning to live in Glasgow’s west end.

Nicoll is at pains to emphasise that the important thing about the venue is that, while it’s not a social enterprise, there is a social element to how it is run. “Unlike galleries, we

don’t take commission. What we are doing is in effect ‘Airbnb’ing’ the shop as a space for the artist and maker to curate and set up the venue during

the period they have hired it. Every booking is different.”

Both mother and daughter continue to work on their respective own artistic practices and a couple of weekends ago, they collaborated on a beautiful piece of Glaswegian Victoriana in the shape of an exhibition called Total Strangers: Studio Portraits of Glasgow’s Victorians.

As part of an open-door weekend, the family’s collection of “cabinet cards”, a style of themed photograph widely used for photographic portraiture after 1870, introduced the world to a host of unknown Glaswegians.

Current Glaswegians take note; there is much to see and savour at Nicolls.

Nicolls. 656 Dumbarton Road, Thornwood, Partick, Glasgow G11 6RA, 0141 334 2728, This weekend, Glasgow-based designer and maker, Olive Pearson, is in residence. See website for opening times and pop-up events/exhibitions programme

Critic's Choice

Sophie Mackay Knight, who graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1997, has been on a lifelong journey to create a new body of work called The Fool's Journey. The exhibition, currently on show at Edinburgh's UNIONgallery, features several large scale paintings from a fully-completed tarot deck of 78 cards which Mackay Knight has been making for the last two years. As well the tarot paintings, there is work from a mini zodiac series, an interpretation of the Seven Sisters legend, and other works on the themes of Fate and Destiny.

Mackay Knight grew up with a grandmother who took her to mediums and taught her how to read normal playing cards when she was a child and a mother who taught her all about astrology. As she says: "I grew up seeing how all of these channels are part of the same quest that people have to search for meaning and connection."

The show is called the Fool’s Journey because the Fool in the tarot is the first card of the major arcana (meaning story), and he/she represents every person in their journey through life. Each card, with names such as The Hermit, The Alchemist and Death, represents a life stage or situation.

Mackay Knight works in a light and bright palette. Her figures – even Death – have a hint of brightness around the fringes. Humming birds flutter from one canvas to another as a kind of touchstone. Her paintings, although mature, retain a touch of a young girl doodling in her bedroom; looking to the future and dreaming of a life to come.

Sophie McKay Knight – The Fool's Journey, UNIONgallery, 4 Drumsheugh Place, Edinburgh, EH3 7PT, 0131 225 8779,, Monday - Friday 10.30am – 5pm, Saturday, 10.30am – 4.30pm. Until October 31

Don't Miss

Gregor Smith has exhibited with Glasgow's Compass Gallery since the 1970s and Four Points, A Geographical Journey, demonstrates his rare ability to capture the atmosphere, drama and beauty of the landscapes he visits. Drawing inspiration from travels to the north of Scotland, Norwegian fjords, Italian mountains and lakes, and gorges on the Yangtze, this exhibition has evolved slowly during the changing seasons, and on his extended walk gathering inspiration and images in his sketchbooks, working plein air using pastels, heavy graphite sticks, Indian ink and watercolour.

Gregor Smith RSW, Four Points: A Geographical Journey, Compass Gallery, 178 West Regent Street, Glasgow G2 4RL, 0141 221 6370,, Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 4pm. Until November 28.