From cave art to graffiti and Berlin to Dumfries, street artists create giant murals for "a world without borders"

By Amy Whiten | 07 May 2016 | Updated: 06 May 2016

With her street art group Recoat, Amy Whiten painted a series of murals across Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games 2014. Her latest work is a giant mural at the city’s On The Corner

A photo of a woman carrying a spraycan
Amy Whiten (right) with her partner Ali Wyllie at the Moniaive mural© Colin Hattersley
“Murals have, for millennia, been used to express ideas about everything from faith, place and identity to love, politics and war. The abundance of prehistoric cave art suggests we might have begun painting walls before we even started building them.

The power of modern urban murals is often their immediacy – with the scale and energy to have a real impact in endless greys of concrete and tarmac. And certainly the tradition Recoat comes from and is very much a response to the 20th and 21st century city, emerging from the underground culture of graffiti art.

Yet phase one of our latest project – as the name Spring Fling Rural Mural more than hints at – has seen us working in some of the most sparsely populated and rural parts of Scotland. It involved pulling together teams of national and international mural artists and matching them with artists from very different areas of practice to create three large-scale works in the countryside.

A photo of a mural being painted on a city wall
© Colin Hattersley
This brought an intriguing set of collaborations. One saw German duo 44flavours working with emerging artist Rory Laycock to paint a mural and create an architectural intervention at an animal rescue centre. Another brought together Italian street artist Tellas with the renowned textile designer Morag MacPherson at a sheep farm. The last united Recoat with photographer Morag Paterson to work on the gable end of a pub in the tiny village of Moniaive.

The cross-fertilisation was, for us, one of the highlights. Tellas has a fascination with the ocean and underwater plant life, while Morag Macpherson has a deep sensitivity to texture and pattern. What they produced was a colourful fusion of ideas which also reflected the colours of the Dumfries and Galloway land and skyscapes.

An interesting aspect of the work was how effectively the artists met the challenge of creating murals with immediacy and impact in environments that were already rich with colour and where two of them could be seen from a substantial distance. As a project, Rural Mural is as multi-layered as the murals themselves. We were acting as lead artists and project managers for Upland, an arts body dedicated to promoting visual art and craft from Dumfries and Galloway.

A photo of the artist Amy Whiten carrying a spray can in front of a street mural in Glasgow, Scotland
© Colin Hattersley
More specifically, it’s intended as a highlight of the annual Spring Fling open studios weekend – providing big, bold public artworks for visitors to see as they travel between the 94 participating studios. Beyond that, it has also been run as part of Scotland’s year of Innovation, Architecture and Design and has the concept of “exchange” as its core theme.

With all this in mind we worked with Upland and EventScotland to develop a second phase – an intriguing inversion of the first. This saw the same teams head off to the heart of Glasgow, Newcastle and Berlin to create a second set of murals. Two of the resulting works, in the soon-to-be regenerated Barras area of Glasgow and in Berlin’s Kurfürstenstraβe, each cover five storeys and are, perhaps, as big in ambition as physical scale.

The challenge of working on walls 20 metres tall is not to be underestimated. Each says something about changing times and social concerns. Our own work in the Barras, and in Moniaive was influenced by ideas about the environment and interconnectedness – city or country, we all rely on the same air and climatic system.

A photo of the artist Amy Whiten carrying a spray can in front of a street mural in Glasgow, Scotland
Whiten and Lewis Fraser in Glasgow© Colin Hattersley
Rory and 44flavours were also interested in a contemporary socio-political theme. It’s one that is of particular interest given that so many murals from the past – Northern Ireland leaps immediately to mind – are about territorial division.

Theirs was about imagined flags for a world without borders – highly prescient given Europe’s convulsions in the face of the Syrian and other refugee crises. In a more abstracted sense they were also prompted by other borders, like those that shackle thought and creativity.

While public art should evoke passions rather than simply please, our experience has generally been that communities are receptive to murals and see them as an asset. The pieces created for the first project, in 2014, have become valued local landmarks. A factor we had to bear in mind was legacy, as these murals could last for 10 or 15 years.

A photo of the artist Amy Whiten carrying a spray can in front of a street mural in Glasgow, Scotland
© Colin Hattersley
But legacy goes beyond the physical. One of Upland’s most enduring achievements may well be the way that it has projected Dumfries and Galloway art and artists to a huge new audience.

Equally, it has established new relationships that could lead anywhere. We have invited Morag Paterson to take part in an exhibition we are curating later this year and Rory is helping 44flavours curate a show in Berlin. Maybe projects like Rural Mural are in themselves flags for a world without borders.”

A photo of the artist Amy Whiten carrying a spray can in front of a street mural in Glasgow, Scotland
© Colin Hattersley
A photo of the artist Amy Whiten carrying a spray can in front of a street mural in Glasgow, Scotland
© Colin Hattersley
Three galleries to see in Scotland

Glasgow Print Studio
The current exhibition for the Glasgow International Festival, Mezzotint, features Nicolas Party's renderings of familiar objects in a way that heightens or exaggerates their presence. Coffee pots, cups, rocks, fruit, plants and portraits - both human and animal - often appear in his work as recurring motifs. Until May 29 2016.

Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh
An outstanding centre for art and ideas, Talbot Rice Gallery is the public art gallery of The University of Edinburgh. The exhibitions exemplify creativity and ambition, seen through a distinctive programme of Scottish and International artists, with informed interpretation and lively educational events.

The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow
The Hunterian boasts one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland. Its permanent displays include works ranging from Rubens and Rembrandt to the Scottish Colourists and Glasgow Boys.
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