Art review: Invited Artists: 35 Years of The Open Eye Gallery

Robert Maclaurin, Winters Day in the Forest, oil on linen

Robert Maclaurin, Winters Day in the Forest, oil on linen

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The Open Eye Gallery is an Edinburgh success story. A good many other galleries have come and gone, but it is now 35 years since Tom and Pam Wilson launched a gallery in a single tiny room in Cumberland Street. They called it the Open Eye and it is still going strong.

Invited Artists: 35 Years of The Open Eye Gallery | Rating: **** | Open Eye Gallery, Edinburgh

Now a birthday exhibition marks the anniversary with works by a selection of artists representing the many hundreds who have shown in the gallery over the years. They include Steven Campbell, John Bellany, Adrian Wiszniewski, Philip Reeves, David Evans, Jack Knox, Alberto Morrocco, Henry Kondracki, Brent Millar, Joyce Carins, Alfons Bytautis, John Byrne, Heather Nevay, Rob McLaurin, Susie Leiper, Paul Furneaux, Tom Wilson himself and a good many others besides. The range of the names suggests two things: the diversity that has always been a principle with the gallery and the confidence that it enjoys among the artists.

Diversity was a principle from the start. There has always been a lot to see, generally two or three exhibitions at a time: paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture and applied art. Since the gallery moved to its present spacious premises in Abercrombie Place, the effect of all this has been less crowded than it was in earlier days. Indeed the birthday show is hung with plenty of space around it, but with no loss in the variety. Not that everything is small to make space. On the contrary, the Life Room by Alberto Morrocco is a splendid triptych that fills a whole wall in the lobby. There’s a big Bellany landscape. Rob McLaurin and Barbara Rae also both have large landscapes. But then some of the smaller works are exquisite, too, a lovely little circular painting by Heather Nevay, for instance, or a little print by Andrew Restall.

Enjoying the confidence of the artists has been vital to the success of the gallery, but its corollary is the all-important confidence of the buying public. From the start, Tom Wilson was determined to maintain a high standard. He understood that public taste tends to be conservative, but he never conceded that the gallery should surrender to it. Rather he worked in the belief that if he could earn their confidence, he could lead people to be more adventurous. And he did. Opening a second gallery, devoted to prints and called I2 which he did while still in Cumberland Street, was an example of this. It became one of the few places outside London where you could hope to find a first-class print by the likes of Matisse, Picasso or Miró. Currently the show in I2 is of the work of woodcuts by Jonathan Gibbs, a stalwart of the gallery and including a striking – and enormous - woodcut made using a disused wooden diving board. Both print and board are on display.

Three years ago, the Wilsons handed over the gallery to Jilly Dobson. She had been Gallery manager for a short period some years earlier, but continuity has also been maintained by Michelle Foster who succeeded her in that role and still performs it with flair and dedication. All in all, the gallery looks good for another 35 years.

• Until 27 January

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