IT HAS been worn by the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Prince and Oscar Wilde and can be traced all the way back to ancient Persia, but now it is hoped the design can reinvigorate the Scottish town that gave it its popular name.

This month, a striking new mural based on the Paisley pattern will be unveiled by John Walter, one of the brightest lights on the contemporary arts scene, whose work with the motif is attracting recognition from international onlookers.

It has been commissioned by Paisley Arts Institute (PAI) for their annual exhibition, the longest-running art exhibition in Scotland, which this year will be staged outwith the town’s museum and art galleries for the first time in more than 100 years.

The mural will run along the outside of the prominent old Co-op building in the town centre while, inside, one of the nearly 500 exhibits will be another of Walter’s works that incorporates the motif.

He told the Sunday National he was “passionate” about the pattern and how it could be used to help Paisley “rethink itself”.

“Paisley is already plugged into places all over the world because of the pattern and I think that is something to be explored,” he said. “I am not the Government but maybe I can help stimulate discussions.”

The mural incorporates six new Paisley patterns designed by Walter, some of which were inspired by the Paisley Museum archives.

The National: one of the works incorporated in the muralone of the works incorporated in the mural

It is the first time PAI has commissioned an outdoor art work and president Jean Cameron said she was “thrilled” it had been taken on by Walter, who is based in England but whose mother hails from Kirkcaldy.

“He’s a really exciting artist and the first thing people will see when they get off the train at Gilmour Street will be this beautiful bespoke Paisley pattern,” she said.

Cameron said the institute was also “delighted” to be able to show Walter’s Virtual Reality (VR) project, The Fourth Wall, which references the world-famous pattern and jacquard looms – a nod to the textile heritage of Pailsey.

He was invited to create work for the exhibition after Cameron and other members of the Institute visited his Capsid installation, the result of a collaboration with molecular virologist professor Greg Towers of University College, London.

It shows how the spread of a virus is similar to how ideas and cultural forms – like the Paisley pattern – are spread. “He’s interested in the way that a virus travels and mutates over time and how we can compare that to Paisley pattern and how it travelled to Iran and Kashmir and back to Paisley and mutated along the way,” said Cameron. “It made sense for us to extend an invitation to him.”

Walter added: “I naturally gravitated towards the motif because of my interest in viruses and how cultural forms are transmitted. I’ve been thinking a lot about how everybody has ownership of it. It subverts the idea of cultural appropriation because it can contain everybody’s culture. I’ve been looking at how it developed and how I can help it evolve in a different way.”

Although the tadpole-shaped motif is known in the Western world as Paisley pattern, it only became associated with the town in the 19th century after a long journey across continents and oceans.

The National: Prince in Paisley fineryPrince in Paisley finery

Its first known manifestation can be traced back at least 2000 years to ancient Persia, where it was called boteh or buta and is thought to have been a representation of a cypress tree combined with a floral spray, a Zoroastrian symbol of life and eternity. It also has connections with Hinduism and is thought to represent fertility. It is still very popular in many Asian countries and is often used in garments for weddings and other celebrations.

In Scotland it was used in Celtic art but did not flourish again until many centuries later when the East India Company brought back shawls featuring the design from Kashmir.

These quickly became fashionable among the more well off. It is recorded that in her trousseau, Sir Walter Scott’s French bride, Marguerite Charlotte Carpentier, had a Kashmir shawl that cost 50 guineas in 1797.

As demand increased, British manufacturers began to make imitations, with Paisley becoming the epicentre. At the peak of production in the mid-19th century, there were more than 7000 weavers in the town.

In Victorian times, Oscar Wilde favoured the design while William Morris and other pre-Raphaelites used it so much that it became an integral part of the Art Nouveau Movement and the Aesthetic Movement.

Its association with arty bohemianism was reinforced in the 60s, when it became part of the psychedelic era. John Lennon’s Rolls Royce was festooned with the pattern.

Other pop stars, including Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin and David Bowie wore it with aplomb, while Prince even called his studio and record label Paisley Park after his 1985 Paisley Park hit.

“Paisley is a brilliantly versatile container for cultural information which is partly why it has lasted so long,” said Walter. “It can easily adapt to multiple contexts.”

The mural will remain after the exhibition, which begins on Saturday, finishes on October 20.

The show has been held in Paisley Museum’s art galleries for more than 100 years but PAI had to find a temporary venue as the museum is closed for a £42 million refurbishment.

Fittingly, the empty supermarket is built on the space once occupied by the Paisley Government School of Design, where in 1876, PAI was formed.

“We are going back to our roots but in a 21st century way,” said Cameron.