Glasgow’s remarkable murals catalogued for first time

A flying blue police box made famous in the Dr Who television series, action shots of a top badminton player, a girl dressed up as a pirate, city wildlife, the latest Booker Prize winner and the famed Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

All of these are among the striking images captured in arresting murals that are dotted all over Glasgow bringing splashes of colour to the city.

You don’t have to go to an art gallery or museum to enjoy them, either – these are free to see as they appear on public display in what is a vibrant and open collection of artworks throughout the city.

They reflect a spirited and dramatic picture of the city’s history, its buildings and people, and they do make people want to stop and stare.

Seeking art outside has been one of the few pleasing pandemic consequences when galleries and museums were forced to stay closed – and it was seized on as an opportunity by the team at Glasgow City Heritage Trust (GCHT) to set about taking a closer look at the range of murals and cataloguing them on social media to showcase a flavour of Glasgow’s history in many different styles and settings.

“There is no doubt the murals add colour and life to the city,” said Silvia Scopa, Community Engagement Officer for GCHT, an independent charity and funder formed in 2007, whose grant programmes help projects promoting the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

“They are vivid, exciting, they brighten up neighbourhoods and provide valuable and interesting history lessons at the same time.

“They are exceptional in their own ways, enhancing the city and providing people with wonderful forms of art as they wander about.”

Most featured by GCHT in its 2021 ‘mural of the week’ project on social media platforms were funded by Glasgow City Council and its City Centre Mural Fund.

Around 20 artists have contributed works to the mural project since it began in 2014 with the diversity of their backgrounds so well reflected in the variety of the final works.

Clearly, the idea is eye-opening as the Council has received inquiries from other local authorities and organisations, not just in the UK but around the world, who are keen to implement their own street art activities and who see the Glasgow murals as a successful example which may be emulated, either in whole or in part, in their own locations.

As freely accessible art installations, they have become not only pleasing on the eye but also significant landmarks which help support local cultural, historical and traditional identities.

One of the biggest murals sprawling over a gable end wall overlooking Ingram Street car park in the city centre is titled, “The fellow Glasgow Residents.”

Artist Sam Bates’ enormous work depicts the variety of animals found in Glasgow’s parks and green spaces such as squirrels, foxes, otters and highland cows.

The same artist also created the first mural GCHT named in its mural of the week series. “Saint Mungo”, completed five years ago, can be found on a gable end in High Street, in the oldest area of the city.

Located near Glasgow Cathedral, the oldest cathedral on mainland Scotland, it shows Glasgow’s patron saint and founder, in modern-day clothes, gently holding a robin.

Another massive mural is Strathclyde Wonderwall in George Street, completed in 2014 by Glasgow artists, Bobby McNamara, and Danny McDermott.

It was brought to life to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Charter that conferred the University’s status, during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Covering more than a thousand square metres it graphically and subtly tells the stories of the university and its people. The University of Strathclyde was the UK’s first technological university, and the mural, adorning the Graham Hill Building, looks at its history, teaching and research in technological education.

Brilliant minds – including John Logie Baird, inventor of the world’s first working television, Henry Faulds, who developed the first fingerprint identification and Andrew Ure, whose experiments on corpses are thought to have inspired the book “Frankenstein” – all feature.

You can also spot a flying blue police box from Doctor Who as the famous programme’s producer, Verity Lambert, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University in 1988.

“I particularly like Frankenstein surrounded by pink lightning,” said Silvia, who helped co-ordinate the mural of the week project.

In the Merchant City there is “Badminton” by Australian artist Guido Van Helten, commissioned to help promote the 2014 Commonwealth Games hosted in Glasgow.

It features dynamic action shots of top player, Glasgow-born Kieran Merrilees.

“All of us at GCHT have a soft spot for this mural as it is very close to our Bell Street office – it is a familiar sight that we hope to see again very soon when we will be able to open our doors to the public,” Silvia said.

A playful mural of a young girl named “The Barras Pirate” marked the opening of the Barras Art And Design restaurant and venue – a girl dressed up as a pirate, holding a telescope and hugging a toy monkey, brings a smile to all who see it.

Outside the Clutha Bar at The Briggait there is a giant mural of Charles Rennie Mackintosh surrounded by three of his famous roses, a stunning work of art completed in 2018 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the legendary architect’s birth.

The city’s newest mural – 30ft high by 60ft (9m by 18m) – is to be found in Gibson Street in the West End. It was inspired by Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize winning novel, “Shuggie Bain.”

The Cobolt Collective completed the work in April this year and features a teenage Shuggie dancing away among the stars along with the quote: “You’ll not remember the city you were too wee, but there’s dancing. All kinds of dancing.” The book’s author, Glasgow-born Stuart, said that seeing the mural was the proudest moment of his life and that he hoped that it inspires “other weans to dream big.”

The GCHT team said they learned a lot through a hugely enjoyable project.

“The feedback to the murals of the week was great and showed that these giant forms of art are something we can all enjoy,” said Silvia.

“I love them all.”

• GCHT is also launching Gallus Glasgow this month, running to the end of March.

This is a digital outreach project that will use Thomas Sulman’s intricate 1864 ‘Bird’s Eye View’ map of the city as a catalyst for exploring the next 50 years of Glasgow’s development in the Victorian period as it became ‘The Second City of the Empire.’

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992