Beloved Scots arts critic remembered through award

Sandy Moffat's portrait of the art critic, playwright, documentary maker and writer W Gordon Smith. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Sandy Moffat's portrait of the art critic, playwright, documentary maker and writer W Gordon Smith. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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HE WAS one of Scotland’s best-loved arts experts and a pioneering arts documentary maker as well as a renowned playwright.

Now former Scotland on Sunday critic W Gordon Smith, who died in 1996, is to be remembered through a £15,000 painting prize for Scots artists.

The prize, one of the largest in Scotland, is open to all artists living and working in Scotland – or Scots living in the rest of the UK and abroad. It is open to any type of painting, with no restriction on style, subject matter or medium, or the age or career development stage of the artist.

Smith started his career as a newspaper journalist, then moved on to television, where he produced art documentaries for BBC Scotland. He also wrote plays, including the one-man show Jock about an ageing Scottish soldier, as well as books on the artist William George Gillies and author Robert Louis Stevenson. He wrote for Scotland on Sunday late in his career, after stints with the Observer and the Edinburgh Evening News.

Scots artist Jack Vettriano has credited Smith for his first media exposure and dedicated his first major retrospective to him two years ago.

W Gordon Smith’s widow, Jay, said: “He did a great deal for a great many artists over many years and did so right up until he died. He was so creative himself, he understood where artists are coming from. He understood how hard it was for the majority and therefore, when he was writing about their work, he always tried to be positive and celebratory.”

The prize will initially be judged anonymously and entries whittled down to a shortlist. A selection of entries will be showcased at the Dovecot Gallery in Edinburgh in January.

The top prize is £10,000, while there will also be two smaller prizes of £2,500 each.

Artist Tom Wilson, one of the award’s judges, said: “If I had a pound for everybody who said to me that painting is dead, I’d be a wealthy man. Painting is still out there, every­body is doing it. You get a feeling that a lot of people are painting away not getting any recognition, while conceptual art gets loads of column inches. We’re hoping to address that in a small way.”

He added: “The judge’s tastes are likely to be quite different. I think there will be a bit of a battle and that’s a very healthy thing. No-one should be put off; there will be a degree of catholic taste.

“There’s no saying we couldn’t admire a Mark Rothko and then see a Richard Dadd and say, ‘That’s a beautiful painting, it’s got a great story to tell’.”