It has a reputation for commissioning spectacular murals to adorn drab gable ends and walkways. But Glasgow has never entertained the idea of so-called “legal walls” for grassroots graffiti artists – until now.
Authorities have instead adopted a zero tolerance approach to unsolicited graffiti, preferring to tackle hotspots with large professional artworks.
“Tagging” and raw graffiti has – understandably so in many cases – been seen as plain acts of vandalism. But now a city venue and events company has stepped in to fill the void. SWG3 in Glasgow’s west end is turning over wall space to people it thinks just need a means of expression.
The former galvanisers yard is host to Scotland’s biggest festival of street art and graffiti, with some of the world’s top names such as Spanish duo PichiAvo showcasing their talents this weekend.
But the legal wall, which will be set up after the festival ends, marks a new departure for the venue and studio director Gary Mackay, AKA Gaz Mac, who has been at the forefront of the genre.
The city’s council is supportive of the move, but says there is no evidence that creating such walls on public land will deter illegal graffiti or antisocial behaviour – and may even lead to more.
The 49-year-old said it was time Glasgow caught up with other cities such as London and Bristol in providing legal walls.
“We want to give them a base where they can store their materials, experiment and just improve their talent. The number one thing is to keep some of these kids out of danger – they are going into derelict buildings to ply their trade.
“What they want is to be seen – this [space] is highly visible from trains, from the road, from a massive footfall that we have here.”
Professional Scottish street artists like Bobby McNamara (AKA Rogue-One) and Sam Bates (AKA Smug) have transformed parts of Glasgow with their murals.
Smug’s photo-realist image of a homeless man with a robin that adorns a gable wall on the city’s High Street is a much-shared image on social media.
But the level of skill needed to execute dramatic, large-scale pieces is way ahead of many. Gaz says the problem with grassroots graffiti writers is that they have no means to practice.
“They’ve never had a place to develop those skills and to further them into design, even into jobs,” he says. “Most of these young boys are creatives and that’s why they do it in the first place – it’s not as if they are just born vandals.”