Exploring Beyond The Painted Walls: An Exploration of Glasgow’s Street Art.
It must be noted that this is an excursion that can very easily never be embarked upon. I had mentally assigned my own trip to one free Thursday. Unfortunately, my intentions, which were all too quickly extinguished by the sound of steady, unrelenting rainfall. Tomorrow, I pledged. The next day was, in fact, decidedly brighter, so I set about devising my route, focusing my trail in the heart of the city, plotting what seemed to be the most logical route from mural to mural. Again, my intentions were great and we were ready to begin. Like any conscientious team leader, I had even deemed it a wise idea to begin proceedings with a leisurely lunch. This addition to the route however neglected to observe Glasgow’s 4pm January sunset. Tomorrow, I pledged. Saturday arrived and the rain fell heavier than ever before. I couldn’t postpone a moment longer. As I said, this is a trip that can easily never take place, especially if you wait around for the elements to be kind to Glasgow. What’s more, if you reside here and you aren’t in possession of a pac-a-mac, well, more fool you I say.
First stop, Gordon Lane. This was the only mural on the route that I had a clear idea of where to find. Situated immediately off Buchanan Street’s Style Mile, you can practically hop off the subway and be there- a great central starting point, whether you know the city or not. A short way down the lane you’ll find Klingatron’s Giant Panda. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of all his work is the knowledge that it is always a one off. Once he has used a stencil for a piece of work, it is destroyed. As a starting point, I found that this particular mural embodies all that was intended by Glasgow’s council and artists when the first scheduled pieces started to emerge in 2008; to bring some life back to spaces that were in danger of becoming a little worn out. ‘Glasgow’s Panda’ now peers out at what has become one of the city’s most promising side streets, Mitchell Lane- notably the home of ‘The Lighthouse.’ I strongly advise taking a moment to climb above the labyrinth of lanes, discovering the view from the top of Rennie Mackintosh’s first public commission. The tower, which once formed part of the old Herald building, is arguably the finest place to observe the life of the city below.
“It almost becomes an Easter egg hunt-esque affair. You start collecting them, subconsciously ticking them off your list.”
The Panda was, certainly, a great central starting point, but it was also the point where the written route was entirely discarded. Once you start to consciously see your surroundings the murals form their own route across Glasgow. The walls are in fact abundant with them. Walking to the end of Mitchell Lane and on to Mitchell Street we were greeted by at least three more pieces. Most pleasingly, you’ll find Sam Bates’ whole wall dedicated to the image of a girl with a magnifying glass bending down to pick something off the street. A brilliant opportunity for a ‘help a giant woman is plucking me out of obscurity’ staged photo shoot.
As I said, the route begins to devise itself, with Rogue-One’s ‘World’s Most Economical Taxi’ dropping you straight onto Argyle Street. On paper, this was our final stop, now, only the beginning. We were some way down passed St Enoch’s and moving towards Trongate before we found Smug’s (Sam Bates’) eclectic herd of wild animals chewing the fat at his Argyle Café mural. This bizarre composition is actually relatively recent. Previously it simply depicted a café scene, before Smug decided to completely revamp his work, adding in these unexpected, yet somehow perfectly at home customers. Perhaps it is a nice reference to Glasgow’s proud reputation as a place of non-judgmental welcome. Since we’d found ourselves at this end of town earlier than anticipated, we decided to pit stop at The King’s Court. The former arches of the train line leading towards St Enoch’s and down to Central, now make up a small precinct of independent shops. Most notably here you’ll find Monorail Records with its attached venue, Mono, which aside from being a beautiful bar, also managed to completely dispel my reservations towards the notion of a vegan pizza. My mind has been broadened.
The best part of doing a bit of reading up on Glasgow’s street art prior to setting off is that it almost becomes an Easter egg hunt-esque affair. You start collecting them, subconsciously ticking them off your list. Next, Guido Van Helten’s representation of Scotland’s star Kieran Merrilees on Wilson Street. This piece was produced in the run up to the city’s games. The series continues slightly out of town, over at Partick Station, and Sam Bates’ contribution,‘The Swimmers’, can be found at the Kingston Bridge. Turning right at the Wilson Street mural, following the road up towards The University of Strathclyde, you’ll meet ‘Fellow Glasgow Residents’ of Ingram Street. Again this is a piece created by Smug, converting a previously bleak city carpark into a menagerie of wildlife, reminding us of the abundance of green space in Glasgow and those we share it with. The amalgamation of these two distinctly different types of ‘park’ goes a long way to remind us that our city is built up of much more than the concrete streets this trail has taken.
” The only action required was to rid ourselves of these expectations, and simply get going.”
Continuing along this road, and concentrating down upon the pavement this time, you’ll come across a plaque commemorating the home of Stephen Miller, The wonderful wean of his father, William Miller’s, famed poem ‘Wee Willie Winkie.’ This little commeroration leads perfectly to my favourite mural, The University of Strathclyde’s ‘Wonderwall.’ This piece, incidentally the UK’s largest outdoor mural, was commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the institutions University status and nods towards some of its most notable alumni and milestones. Amongst those celebrated are Verity Lambert, producer of Doctor Who, and the Dansken Equatorial Telescope, which was once used by scholars of the University to teach Nautical Astronomy. To the right, you will see the North Portland Street Mural, modelled on a 1920’s photograph of students receiving a lecture. You’ll note that the image as been altered, to present modern students sitting side by side with those that went before them, demonstrating the diverse nature of the institution as it lives today.
Having found my favourite piece, I decided to conclude the trail. By the book, I should have seen five murals, but, by the end of the trip had inadvertently come across about eleven. A task which had at first seemed to require perfect conditions- a map, good weather, hours of time, in fact fell together without any of the above. In fact, the only action required was to rid ourselves of these expectations, and simply get going.