29 June 2011

By Malaika Byng

Tucked away down a quiet side street in the historic centre of Aberdeen is a veritable hotbed of creative activity. Started in 1974 as a simple fine art print studio by a group of Gray’s School of Art graduates – inspired by the beautiful etchings of their teacher Ian Fleming – Peacock Visual Arts has grown into a major operation, equipped with a darkroom, a broadcast-quality editing suite, a digital department, a gallery and a stellar programme of exhibitions, making it something of catalyst on the Scottish arts scene, albeit in a remarkably unassuming fashion.

But, as diverse as its output may be, the gallery has print-making at its heart, in all its forms, from relief printing to etching and screen printing. Peacock Visual Arts was born at a time when there was a burst of interest in print-making in Scotland. ‘The print galleries in London were very commercial, so the Scottish Arts Council liked the fact that Peacock was initiated by artists,’ says the gallery’s director, Lindsay Gordon. ‘They were quite enlightened and gave us vital funding.’

Skip forward a few decades and the studio is a hive of activity. Just last week, everyone from a group of art students to Royal Academician Barbara Rae and Wallpaper* favourite Toby Paterson could be seen hard at work. ‘Print-making is a something that requires expensive and heavy kit, so we want to make it available to everyone,’ says Gordon. ‘We are very democratic about who can use the studio and who we represent as a gallery.’ That may be so but there are many treasures to be found among its collections, such as ‘The Nose Epilogue’ – an amusing graphic series by Glasgow-based Mick Peter – and the fragmented architectural compositions of Paterson, who will have a solo show at the gallery in September.

Peacock Visual Arts operates from a former 18th century workshop and an adjacent 19th century church school in Castlegate. With so many facilities, it has almost outgrown its premises but a recent plan by the gallery to build an ambitious new arts centre in the city’s historic Union Terrace Gardens and restore the gardens to their former glory was thwarted (despite securing funding) when a local business tycoon stumped up £50 million of his own money to turn it into a civic park. Disappointing it may be for the gallery-cum-studio, but it makes stumbling upon it all the more thrilling. And Gordon has other plans for its future. ‘We’re working on ideas for a series of site-specific installations,’ he says. ‘If we are confined to our current premises, it won’t stop us taking our exhibition programme to where people are.’

Read article on wallpaper.com and view gallery here

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