PAINTINGS and sculptures by prisoners from Glasgow’s notorious Barlinnie Special Unit are included in a new exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Art Extraordinary is a unique display of Scottish "outsider art", put together over four decades by pioneering art therapist and artist Joyce Laing who worked in prisons and hospitals across the country.

She salvaged some of the works, such as the small craftwork The Mouse, from hospital rubbish bins.

Glasgow Times:

Many of the artists were experiencing periods of mental ill health during the time they were creating their work. Joyce was interested in the connection between the creation of art and the mental wellbeing of the artists.

Her collection was donated to Glasgow Life Museums in 2012. Since then, staff and researchers from Glasgow Life Museums and the University of Glasgow have looked into the history of the 1100-plus artworks.

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The permanent display is the culmination of years of activities which aimed to bring the Art Extraordinary collection to communities across the west of Scotland, and to research the history and geography of the art and the artists.

Glasgow Times:

The display is co-curated by people from the Leverndale Recreational Therapy Unit, Project Ability, and Gartnavel Hospital.

Dr Cheryl McGeachan, a senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, said: “The work that Joyce collected provides invaluable insights into the creative lives of some of society’s most marginalised people.

"Unbelievably, some of the pieces now on display were initially salvaged by Joyce from rubbish bins. I’m immensely grateful to Joyce for recovering them, and to my collaborators at Glasgow Life Museums and beyond for their support to bring a new focus on the experiences of mental ill health to Kelvingrove.”

Dr Anthony Lewis, curator of Scottish history and the Art Extraordinary collection, said: “This remarkable collection recognises mental health art and care’s importance and is housed alongside other works in an area of the museum that focuses on the theme of expression.

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“The result is that Art Extraordinary will be better understood and the wider collection, which is stored at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, will feature in tours on mental health and make sure Art Extraordinary is seen and known by more people than ever.”

Claire Coia, curator at Glasgow’s Open Museum, added: “The first time we took artworks from this collection, including plasticine portraits of the Beatles and embroidered hospital bedsheets, to a pop-up event at Leverndale Hospital, they sparked so much discussion that I knew it really was extraordinary.

“We started off knowing very little about many of the objects in the collection and it’s been a real journey to research them. Tony, Cheryl, and I have been facilitating the process – the community curators are the real experts. By putting the power of curation into the hands of the experts, new stories and perspectives have emerged. This is still the tip of the iceberg – with more than a thousand artworks in this treasure trove, who knows what stories are biding their time, waiting to be told?”

The Special Unit at Barlinnie was one of the most controversial penal reform experiments in Scottish history.

It was set up in 1973 to support a small group of extremely violent and uncontrollable prisoners, including convicted murderers Jimmy Boyle and Larry Winters. It polarised opinion, as it aimed to help rehabilitate the men through art and therapy. It closed in 1994.

Art Extraordinary is on display now at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in the Expression Gallery.