Passing the age of 80 has done nothing to dim the prolific, intriguing art of Jimmy Cosgrove, the former head of printed textiles at Glasgow School of Art. His last major show opened at Linlithgow Burgh Halls a year ago, only to be closed soon afterwards by the winter lockdown. One must hope this show will fare better.
Cosgrove’s paintings, in acrylic, fill the Lillie’s larger exhibition space with a sense of activity. Every picture is full - of people, animals, buildings, symbols, patterns. There are pictures within pictures, stories within stories (though he leaves his audience to work out the stories for themselves).
While none of this will decode these pictures (nor should it), it might help to know the following: Cosgrove left school at 15 for an army apprenticeship in cartographic draughtmanship, then worked for 10 years as a telecoms engineer before starting art school. Then he studied printed textiles at GSA under Bob Stewart, in a department where students were encouraged to think well beyond the limits of the medium.
So there are maps here, and connections - one painting is even called ‘Making Connections’. His process is accretive: it begins with instinct, then one image suggests another, then another. And, while this is not strictly design, these works are full of design qualities: colour, pattern, texture, layering.
Central, too, is a sense of place, particularly the Ayrshire coastline and the shapes of Arran, Bute and Ailsa Craig which Cosgrove can see from his home, though the sun-bleached palette is more suggestive of his travels in Arizona and New Mexico. There are Calmac ferries and tall harbourside houses and, in one set of pictures, a wonderful rendering of the People’s Palace and Templeton’s carpet factory.
These “real” places act as a container for the flights of the imagination, or dreams, or dream-memories, the winged horses (and winged people), the whale from Moby Dick, the raft of the Medusa, the building labelled ‘Central Casting’ and the figures with hooded crows on their heads (I suspect puns are not to be ruled out).
Some are literally collages, others just have a collage sensibility; subjects, images and patterns bounce off one another. Some are so full they dazzle the eye and you can’t see the wood for the trees - at least, not at first. One collaborator described them as being “like looking through binoculars into Jimmy’s mind’s eye”. They are energetic and mysterious, and well worth a look.
Jimmy Cosgrove: A Series of Dreams is on at Lillie Art Gallery, Glasgow until 28th October.