Going on a Glasgow Street Art Tour
with Photo Walk Scotland
Taking a Street Art Tour of Glasgow
You think you know a place….
Street art has been storming along at pace as one of the leading activities while on a city break as travellers cum photographers seek out new ways to get to the soul of a place. Hyperbolic maybe – there are plenty of examples of what can only be described as a scribble that spring to mind – but in my travels each culture takes its own twist when it comes to this stuff. South America is all about vibrant colour and storytelling, Brussels refers to its comic-rich past and Glasgow….well, Glasgow goes to its characterful roots. Earthy, intimidating, funny and even a little insane, I found my Glasgow Street Art tour with Photo Walk Scotland a curious insight into the city’s mentality.
I’m a Glaswegian so I can get away with calling us slightly insane by the way and it’s meant in the most affectionate way possible. Rogues and scallywags for sure, I’ve always kind of seen Glasgow folk as having a hint of Captain Jack Sparrow about them. Doo-lally mental when the occasion calls for it. Why this reflection into the psyche of my fellow nutters came about is largely down to this particular journey and, personally, I got an awful lot more out of this kind of art experience that I ever have in a gallery.
Glasgow’s Street Art is popping up all over the city. From the heart of the west end to way-off-the-tourist-map corners of the east, you can find subtle and spectacular splashes of angst and love all over the place. There are dozens of examples. While much of Photo Walk Scotland’s Tour is focussed on the city centre and central perimeter areas of the south and east of the city, the nature of the beast is that it’s constantly evolving. What is there this week may be gone the next as buildings are demolished, permissions change or a new angle is sought by the artist(s). So there is no such thing as an ultimate Glasgow Street Art tour that covers every example out there – you will always be facing something new. What’s included in this blog post is just a sample of some of my favourites. There are many, many more.
For some geographical guidance, the Merchant City and legendary Barras will likely feature and a subway trip or two is possible. Expect back alleys and always be ready to look up. Tom at Photo Walk Scotland is a photographer to trade so it’s a perfect match of photography guidance and expert local knowledge. Make sure your camera memory card has plenty of free space.
The main attractions
It’s entirely one for personal taste as to which examples of Glasgow’s Street Art really do it for you. While I still love the now-familiar Commonwealth Games pieces that adorn the side of buildings and leave a lasting impression, I’m also drawn to those that tell a bit of a story.
Just south of the River Clyde for example, you’ll come across the Gorbals Vampire. A fairly notorious part of the city, the Gorbals has had its share of ghost stories and this 1950s tale goes along the lines that this child abductor/cannibal was hunted down by local schoolchildren in retribution for his heinous acts. How much of this tale is fabrication and exaggeration is up in the air but it is true that droves of schoolchildren stormed to the Necropolis graveyard to seek out this – metal-toothed naturally – demon. It made headline news and was even put to Parliament by the local MP. The below is a fitting tribute to this bizarre and unsettling story.
On a lighter note, Glasgow does like to poke fun at itself. Observe the below tribute to pub culture in these parts. Two trendy, inebriated, gents at their local boozer. A familiar picture to be sure. Observe also the ‘No Cocktails’ symbol and the promotional slogan in the top right announcing that the pub opens at 8 in the morning. Said with pride.
Or this colourful nonsense in Argyll Street, one of Scotland’s biggest shopping centres. An elephant sat at a table patiently waiting to be served. Deep in thought, as they tend to be. A shark-on-a-mission tearing in with his straw surrounded by empty glasses. Or a dozy looking rhino behind the bar hoping that you don’t ask for anything more complicated than a pint of heavy. If Dali had come up with this you’d be having a field day analysing and dissecting this particular scene. As it is folk just walk by minding their own business and it’s as much a part of the street as the architecture or the loud high street advertising.
But even the sad chapters – and we’ve had a few – of Glasgow’s past are represented. The Clutha Bar, victim of a helicopter crash in 2013, is now an evocative story in itself thanks to street art. It was a tragedy felt strongly by Glasgow and the sombre faces give pause. Not the most obvious tribute perhaps, but a powerful one. It also pays tribute to some of the famous names associated with the venue, and with Glasgow more widely.
Drawing the line between graffiti and art is something I’ll leave to others much more in the know but I would say that I’ve never come across any such works and thought of them as offensive or painful on the eye. Grim streets amidst concrete jungles, dingy pillars holding up bridges or back alleys littered with overflowing bins are always crying out for a splash of colour in my mind.
As much as anything, what I took out of the tour was the necessity that this artwork blends in to the fabric of its environment. My initial outrage that there’s a property For Sale sign on one of the murals was quickly tempered – the art is just a part of the street and the street has a job to do. And who do we have to thank for all of this? Artists like Glasgow’s own Rogue One, EJEK and the collective Art Pistol are probably the best places to start.
This is a blog post I’m certain I’ll be adding to as the Glasgow Street Art culture continues to develop but for now a big thanks to Tom at Photo Walk Scotland. While I was invited on his tour I’m a fussy bugger and if I didn’t think it was high quality and an excellent way of getting to know my home city better I wouldn’t recommend it. But I do and it is so I will.
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