Glasgow graffiti sparks streetscape art renaissance [Video]
"We can’t live in a built up, grey space and live on top of each other. We need big spaces, we need colour."
Along a short stretch of Argyle Street, before the road melts into the West End, painted people stop passers-by in their tracks.
Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon exposes naked bodies entwined with white brothel sheets, as a young girl escapes the electric blues of Starry Night.
A violet octopus explodes from a picture frame, spreading mischievous tentacles into The Great Wave of Kanagawa.
Mona Lisa clutches an Irn Bru. A Dali clock droops.
This surreal street homage to history’s greatest artists is part of Glasgow’s public art boom, as the city discovers new appreciation for colour, creative talent and community art.
Painted by street artist Smug, the mural that wraps around the corner of York Street and Argyle Street is one of many landmark features in this new public art trend.
As part of the Clean Glasgow Campaign ahead of the Commonwealth Games 2014, the council have commissioned several public artworks around the city.
Initially designed to prevent graffiti in areas prone to vandalism, the project has since expanded to capture the attention and affection of Glaswegians and tourists alike.
Sites at Renfrew Ferry, Custom House Quay and Central Station Rail Bridge have all been given this council-friendly street art makeover and are blanketed with anti-graffiti paint to protect them from vandals.
At one site beneath the Kingston Bridge, a concrete wall emblazoned with colossal Commonwealth swimmers greets droves of drivers waiting at traffic lights.
“It’s to lighten up the city, to give young artists a lot of opportunity and for people to rejoice in public art and raise parts of the city that might need a bit of dressing up,” said Liz Cameron, convenor of Development and Regeneration Services in Glasgow City Council.
“People are very interested when something beautiful or striking is being painted.
“What they don’t want are people coming along, daubing slogans on walls or putting things up that aren’t appropriate to their love of the city.”
Liz is planning to push public art across Glasgow in coming years, focusing on young, emerging local artists.
“My favourite is the Argyle Street café. It’s just wonderful. When I walk along there and see it I remember how it used to be a shoe shop," said Liz.
“It’s got that Noir film feel from the 1940s, a touch of Edward Hopper and a tinge of Jack Vettriano. I love it, it’s very boheme and it’s very Glasgow."
Glasgow City Council are not the only ones wanting in on this flourishing creative trend.
Strathclyde Passenger Transport [SPT] have also announced their dedication to promoting local artists by creating murals and other public art works through the modernisation of its subway stations – starting with Alasdair Gray and Nichol Wheatley’s spectacular west end mosaic at Hillhead.
The mural, which stretches across the back wall of Hillhead’s newly renovated station, is phase one of a city-wide public art project that will include murals, music and other forms of accessible art work.
“We have the greatest art school in the world – Glasgow School of Art,” said David Fagan, Vice Chair of SPT, who is a graduate of the art school himself.
“I’m determined that this heritage continues. If I can do something to enhance that through the modernisation of the subway, then I will do it.”
Despite this sudden awakening and passion for public art amongst the city’s powers, the value of communal artwork in urban spaces has been apparent to others for years.
The beauty of street art, steering away from damaging misconceptions and the blurred line between vandalism and street masterpiece, has until recently been celebrated in a select underground community.
Recoat Gallery, run by Amy Whiten and Ali Wyllie, has promoted graphic designers, street artists, illustrators and other artists of a similar genre for the last five years.
Inspired by the incredible street murals of Berlin, Bristol, Philadelphia and beyond, Amy and Ali recognised the dearth of street art and appreciation for public mural in their own city.
Having waited patiently for Glasgow to bring its public spaces to life, the pair are happy that the city has finally started to play catch-up with other prominent international locations.
“For people to see grey walls all the time is depressing and sad,” said Amy.
“There’s been a lot of research and development into that, leading to lots of planting and green areas in public spaces.
“As human beings we need that – we can’t live in a built up, grey space and live on top of each other. We need big spaces, we need colour.
“Things that make us look and make us think, stuff that’s interesting and tells a story, ignites something in you that makes you feel excited and interested in the world and in life.”
As part of Recoat’s Rudimentary Perfection project in 2011, Amy and Ali brought ten internationally renowned street artists to Glasgow for a ‘Graffuturism’ exhibition – creating ten separate murals around the city.
The artists they invited to Glasgow are responsible for some of the city’s most spectacular street art – including the building-sized girl peering down on Mitchell Street through a magnifying glass and the Woodland Community Gardens mural.
“Looking at grey walls does nothing, not for me anyway,” said Amy.
“When I look at these projects I feel enthusiastic and excited about making things happen for people in Glasgow.”
Glasgow’s network of street artists are benefitting gradually from this surge of interest in public art.
Rogue One, a local graffiti artist, is currently putting the finishing touches to a commissioned Clyde Street mural that depicts the mysterious depths of our city’s river. Sunken daleks, swimming elephants and otters dominate the submerged landscape in a four-wall mural of turquoise and greens.
“At first we were going to make it realistic about what you find in the river – shopping trolleys, car tyres, dead bodies, bags of cats,” laughed Rogue One.
“But we realised we could be much more fun with it, more entertaining, so we brought elephants and daleks and standing stones into it.”
The project covers a store front, much like Smug’s Argyle Street mural, and is another example of how buildings that fall into disrepair or become unattractive through age can be reincarnated as artwork.
“Personally, as the person who does the murals, the appreciation I’ve had on this has been fantastic,” said Rogue One.
“Right from lower class characters to middle class people, from different aspects and different sides they all appreciate it.
“Tourists who walk by say it’s fantastic seeing work like this done in the city, the splash of colour to brighten the place up.
“I remember seeing the hand-painted murals around the gable ends of buildings and I thought they were fantastic.They seemed to disappear with progression and modernisation.
“Now it’s nice to see this graffiti art renaissance, and on the sides of buildings work like this is starting to appear.”