An East End artist seeks to show the world what life was like in 1930s Glasgow

A 95-year-old’s paintings have captured the public’s heart
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Thomas McGoran was walking through The Forge when an empty unit caught his attention. He had 30 years worth of paintings hidden in a wardrobe at home - a rare visual documentation of how Glasgow looked in the 1930s - and at 95-years-old he knew he was coming to the end of his life and wanted the world to see his his work.

The shopping centre gave him the space for free and his intention was to showcase his art while raising money for charity. But in Thomas’ words, the reality was he “created a monster”.

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“I never in my wildest dreams expected it to go the way it has gone”.

People have travelled from Birmingham to Inverness specifically to see Thomas’ paintings, in awe of his incredible attention to detail, technique, and drawn by the memories his pictures ignite. The two-week exhibition was extended to a month, with galleries lining up to house the work following their departure, and droves of spectators querying if anything was for sale.

While he has never had any formal art training, his talents are inherited from his mother who taught him to draw as a young boy. However, the hobby dwindled with his childhood. He grew up, worked full-time, raised three children. There was little time to nurture his skills.

When he retired from the railways in 1988 his wife gifted him a set of oil paints, rekindling his creative passions and planting the seeds for what exists today.

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Thomas was brought up in the East End of Glasgow during a pre-war recession. Unemployment was rife, no one had money, thus children had to be inventive when entertaining themselves. He sought a unique subject matter and these memories spurred inspiration.

“On reflection, they were the happiest days of my life”, Thomas explained.

“My generation are dying and soon there will be no one left from the 1930s. We don’t want to fade away into obscurity. I thought to myself, paint pictures which tell a story, and that is the result.

“Through perseverance with oils, and other mediums of course, I’ve managed to make this collection.”

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Most of his work is a product of memory which is why the pictures aren’t connected to any particular place. It is how he envisions these moments of his childhood. This also seems to be why they connect with so many people, particularly those from outside his home city. They’re ambiguous and allow an audience to create their own meaning and draw their own conclusions.

Amid this newfound chaos, it is Thomas’ younger family who supported his endeavours and helped materialise his pursuits. In between work, his three children take him too and from the exhibition to meet enthusiastic audiences eager to shake his hand. They are currently in the process of scanning the paintings in order to sell prints.

His great-grandson Daniel has also been at the unit everyday, involved in the charity collection and ensuring the charade runs smoothly. Daniel is a keen photographer himself staying true to his artistic lineage.

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