Earlier this year David Howat, who writes about the vagaries of house sales in the West End for the website, invited me along to Glasgow Art Club for lunch. His other guest was Muriel Barclay, the artist, whom I hadn't met before. We had a very enjoyable time chatting about allsorts of stuff and when I asked Muriel about her work she pointed me to a painting of two young people, a boy in a kilt and a girl in a ballet costume. "Choreographing Homecoming" had pride of place in the exhibition on show at that time. Very striking and beautiful; it has since been sold.
i learned that Muriel was a very busy artist, who lived in Glasgow West End - she seemed to be an excellent candidate for inclusion among my 'local characters'. Recently, I caught up with Muriel again when I went along to her home in Dowanhill for a chat.
When I arrived Muriel showed me into a lovely, comfortable sitting room, which I did not initially recognise as a studio. It wasn't that I didn't notice the paintings on the easels - definitely work in progress, but just that the room was so devoid of the mess, clutter and smell of paint that seems to characterise the workplace of most artists. However, I was already beginning to suspect that Muriel wasn't your stereotypical artist.
I had mentioned to my father-in-law that I was going to meet Muriel and it turned out that he had done plumbing work for both Muriel and her mother. He had really taken to her and told me how friendly she was -"a really lovely person".
Muriel was certainly most hospitable and invited me to go downstairs with her to the kitchen when she made us some tea. I enjoyed having a wee tour of the house, which is spacious and elegant - a perfect backdrop for all the lovely art work, both her own and other artists, that adorns the walls.
Born and raised in Glasgow's West End, Muriel could not be more familiar with the area - she was born at home in Kirklee, just on the other side of Great Western Road from where she now lives. She also worked for a number of years at Glasgow High School where she taught History and Modern Studies until 2002 when she started painting full time. Although Muriel showed an aptitude for art from an early age, there was never any notion that she would pursue a career in this field and when she left school she headed for university rather than Art School.
However, keen to spread her wings Muriel studied at Edinburgh University rather than Glasgow and when she graduated she headed for London. There she worked in a gallery in Mayfair, the owner was 'an old rogue but he knew so much about art". She wasn't painting herself at this time but lapped up the atmosphere of the art world, in which she was submerged, and loved the cosmopolitan and sophisticated environment.
In the late 70's she returned to Glasgow and started studying for a teaching qualification. She then got married and had three sons. She was kept busy raising her family and working as a teacher and started painting during the school holidays mainly as a way of relaxing. She was encouraged in her art by Glasgow artist, Neil McDonald, who told her: "you know Muriel, you can do this" and for the next seven years she studied various forms of art part-time at Glasgow School of Art. This included: Life Drawing, Portraits and Oil Painting.
Thirsty to extend her knowledge beyond the practical aspects of art, Muriel enrolled for a course in the History of Fine Art with the Open University. She is incredibly enthusiastic when she describes how much she got out of studying how the philosophy and culture could be reflected in art. She became 'entranced' by the ideas and interpretation of art and found the knowledge she was gaining invaluable and strived to channel this into her own work.
Muriel was further encouraged as she began to gain some recognition, winning prizes and offers from galleries to exhibit her work down south and in Edinburgh.
Muriel received awards from Paisley Art Institute, 1999, RGI 1999, Glasgow Society of Women Artists? Special Award 2000 and a further award from RGI in 2001). She gave up her teaching post in 2002 to work at her art full time.
Seven years later she has not looked back, she is a very productive artist, receives many commissions for her work, both at home and abroad, and exhibits regularly at prestigious galleries in London and throughout Scotland.
Her work is figurative representing people in different settings. The paintings are attractive and colourful, with interesting arrangements; they have a certain glamour and a touch of quirky humour. She describes them as being about: "display, pretense, irony and a little dark I am no art critic but all I can say is that I think I kept Muriel back; when she showed me the collection of her extensive body of work catalogued on her computer I could have happily spent the rest of the day looking at it. It was particularly enjoyable having Muriel explain how certain figures were positioned for effect and how she "liked to portray relationships in her paintings" and sometimes liked to "paint dogs alongside people".
Muriel's teaching experience shines through when she talks about how she goes about creating her paintings. I enjoyed hearing her explaining how she made changes to particular paintings to achieve the result she was seeking. I got the feeling that she was a perfectionist, who always feel that she could do better..
I particularly liked the painting she had on her wall of her son and his wife, the girl so lovely and the boy so handsome but it is the feeling and tenderness emanating from the picture that make it something special. I think perhaps one special gift is her ability to portray the emotions of her subjects.
Muriel is decidedly happy with how her career is going and takes genuine joy from her painting but she has no complaints about her past life and no regrets about the years she spent teaching. She appears to be calm, content and very well organised. Muriel knows a lot about art and a lot about life and this mix seems to work very well. The main impression I left with was how genuinely enthusiastic she is about her work - "sometimes you think: tomorrow I will create a great painting".
I believe she could be right.Pat Byrne, December, 2009.