Relive Norman Gilbert's colourful career with this landmark solo exhibition
Plants, patterns and people are the subjects which Norman Gilbert said came to dominate his work across his 63-year career. And from September, visitors at Glasgow's Tramway gallery will be able to look back on his paintings, sketches and more with a landmark solo exhibition of his art.
For over fifty years, Norman Gilbert lived and worked on Glasgow's south side, painting intimate, domestic scenes of his wife Pat, their four children, and his extended family of friends and neighbours. His distinctive, vibrant paintings came to enrich their lives and the surrounding area, and now visitors to Tramway gallery will be able to bask in their brilliance too.
That's because the Glasgow gallery is running the first solo hometown exhibition of his work from September third 2022, all the way through until February fifth 2023. And as well as showcasing Gilbert's vivid and deftly composed paintings, visitors will also be able to see samples of his pencil studies, textile work, and related objects and ephemera from his studio.
Over more than six decades, Gilbert worked from his studio based in the family home amid interlacing patterns and motifs which would come to be echoed in his art. These include the 1970's fashions of his teenage children and printed textiles created by his wife Pat to the architectural motifs of their Victorian tenement.
When looking at Gilbert's work, it's easy to see why he has become so beloved. "Using pattern to dynamic effect, Gilbert democratically embellishes every intricate detail of the painting, exaggerating outlines and contours to build depth and spatial complexity", explains the gallery in a statement.
"This technique combined with his inventive narrative eye draws audiences into the paintings inviting them into Gilbert's world in which the daily rhythms and intimacies of family life are teased out." In Gilbert's own words, "each colour and shape enhances every other colour and shape, so it's entirely satisfactory, so it's at peace."
As well as blurring the lines between art and life by depicting everything from the magnificent to the banal, Gilbert's paintings have also become a poignant way to mark the passage of time. In them, we can see how fashions change, children grow, and his subjects' age and life unfold. One of the most notable examples of this is the work which tracks his four sons as they grow up, forge relationships, and have children of their own.
Keen-eyed viewers will also notice that he created many portraits of his wife, Pat. These continued into old age, with characteristically titled pieces such as 'Chair' and 'Pat' evoking the complex intimacies that make up an inner emotional world. In the words of his son Mark "Dad's pictures are a tender and affectionate testament to his life and the relationships that nourished him."
Gilbert continued to paint well into his nineties and through until the final years of his life. When there was nobody to sit for his paintings, he turned to his garden and nature for inspiration, making beautifully detailed pictures of plants. Familiar objects such as chairs, tables and ceramics would continue to be reliable subjects too, but he always found new ways to approach and interpret them.
Tramway adds: "The works on easels' Plants, Patchwork and Two Green Chairs' were the final paintings Gilbert made at the age of 92, and the painting's colours can be seen in his palette presented alongside the works in the exhibition."
An attendee of the Glasgow School of Art, Gilbert's work has been the subject of many solo exhibitions around the world over the years. However, this is the first time his hometown has held a solo exhibition for the painter whose joyful vivacity came to define the area.
"His canvases were created over months through a meticulous process in which Gilbert first created the painting as a pencil drawing, following this as a black and white painted study before moving on to the final version in colour," adds the gallery. "Many of the black and white studies, incredible paintings in their own right, are exhibited here at Tramway."