IF every starving artist has a garret, then Tommy Fitchet’s was a damp council flat on the 23rd floor of the high rise flats in Glasgow’s tough Sighthill estate.
But despite mushrooms growing on the walls and being burgled three times, he has gone on to major success with his bold, colourful landscapes painted on glass in demand around the world and selling for thousands.
Now the 44-year-old is launching a special exhibition in his own Edinburgh gallery to raise money for Cancer Research as his mother has recently recovered from breast cancer.
Originally from Dundee and then Falkirk before leaving for London at 18, his return to Scotland in 1996 saw him signing on and housed in a top floor flat in Sighthill.
Yet it was his six months there – before he was finally moved to the Gorbals after receiving homophobic abuse – which saw his career begin to take off.
“I’d just returned to Scotland and didn’t have a bean, but I’d decided that I really wanted to concentrate on my painting. I am self-taught – going to university or college wasn’t for me – so getting my own place meant I could give it a real bash.
“I’d heard about Sighthill and it was what I expected. Syringes in the lift – though the lift rarely worked – no lights on so you never knew who’d be on the stairs.
“I got a flat on the 23rd floor which had great views, but both bedrooms were so damp that they had mushrooms growing on the walls. As they were uninhabitable – and because I couldn’t afford canvases, and really you can use anything as a canvas, I started painting on the walls.”
Fitchet was then burgled three times and had all his belongings stolen – including his mattress, cooker, clothes and eventually even the washing machine. He said: “I had some painting sheets that they never took so I used those as blankets, my jacket as a pillow, and slept on the floor.”
As well as painting on the walls, he had begun to collect discarded aluminium drinks cans: “I washed them, fashioned the metal into squares and embossed small designs on to them, before sticking them on to card – bought thanks to a loan from my brother. A shop in Glasgow’s West End loved them and put in an order for 500. That’s when things started to change.”
He began to show at art fairs and from there his bold landscape work was taken by galleries in Glasgow, Edinburgh, London and New York. In 2004 he moved to Arran – which has continued to inspire his work – and where his mother Carol Fleming, 68, also now lives.
“After three years I realised I was missing city life so I moved to Edinburgh and the Flaubert Gallery hosted two exhibitions of 40 works. Then I opened my own gallery Saorsa – really it’s been crazy.”
His larger paintings now sell for around £3500, but he’s launching a new exhibition of smaller works which cost just £100, with £50 of that going to Cancer Research.
“Like most people I’ve been affected by cancer,” he said. “My mum has been recovering from breast cancer – luckily it was caught early, but she had four younger sisters and in the last ten years lost them all to cancer. It just felt right for me to do something with my art, given I’ve been so lucky, to give something to Cancer Research.”
The 100 for 100 solo exhibition of 100 small artworks each costing £100, with £50 going to Cancer Research is on at Saorsa Gallery, 8 Deanhaugh St, Edinburgh.