Glasgow’s Graffiti Art: Is the Writing on the Wall?

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Vibrant, bold, and creative are just a few words that can be used to describe the painted streets of Glasgow. With a history dating back to the 1980s, the graffiti scene has grown significantly with the rise of the internet and new artistic styles being recognised globally. However, despite such rich Glaswegian graffiti history and an active community, graffiti artists in Glasgow believe the Scottish governments support of the art form is failing to shine the proper light on their smaller local artists, leaving it up to those within the community to uplift each other and showcase their talents.

Many of the larger scale murals that are often shown off throughout the city, through the famous Mural Trail, are all commissioned through the government to large scale, established graffiti artists. The city has also spent almost £650k removing graffiti from smaller artists, which is more than another other local authority in 2020. In order to showcase smaller artists pieces, groups of artists have come together every year for the Yardworks Festival at SWG3 in the west end.

The festival is one of Europe’s largest events dedicated to showcasing graffiti artists concepts and skills, with organisers saying it allows for an “inspiring and fun-filled experience for people of all ages.” It allows for artists and art lovers alike to watch murals come together in real-time, learning from their heroes and take away inspiration for their own future pieces.

Yardworks Festival 2023 courtesy of @yardworksglasgow on Instagram.

Yardworks is crucial in providing the much-needed space for smaller graffiti artists in Glasgow, as the city currently has no legal graffiti space. These spaces are vital for young artists as they need a place to learn and expand their skills with those who are just as passionate as they are.

King Listy, an experienced Glasgow graffiti artist, explains, “With no legal painting spaces in Glasgow, smaller artists are yearning for the space to paint”. He goes on to explain that artists are often forced to work in illegal and dangerous spaces, such as abandoned buildings or dimly lit alleyways.

“You go to these places to learn and build your skills with your mates, but we would have to bring brushes along with us to sweep away needles and run the risk of being caught by the police who would take away our paint cans”.

King Listy’s artwork shown outside SWG3 in Glasgow, the location of Yardworks Festival 2023 (courtesy of @kinglisty on Instagram).

With no space to unleash their creativity, younger artists must turn to illegal canvases, running the risk of picking up a criminal record. Listy explains, “Smaller artists aren’t doing all this to cause trouble or vandalise, it’s the only way they can get their name on walls and their stuff known.

“The big murals look fantastic and make Glasgow brighter, but letting big artists do them isn’t helping the struggling, more local artists. I think engaging with people from the bottom-up could be more beneficial.”

Lack of creative space isn’t the only struggle for graffiti artists in Glasgow, with many dealing with the harmful stereotypes that come with the art form.

Another Glasgow graffiti artist, that wishes to remain anonymous, has gained many years of experience throughout his time painting in Glasgow but would like to speak out about the negative connotations graffiti comes with.

“I was very wary of telling people I do graffiti; people always assume it automatically makes you some sort of criminal or that you’re out to destroy buildings in the local areas. When in reality, all we want to do is brighten up the city by adding some colour and expressing ourselves.

“Those kinds of stereotypes get to you, I think if you’re constantly told you’re one thing and being pushed into the abandoned places where other stereotyped people are – like homeless or addicts – then you eventually start to believe it and feel like some sort of degenerate, because that’s what you’re surrounded by.”

It is clear that the general consensus among Glasgow’s graffiti artists towards the Scottish governments approach to funding the artwork is less than enthusiastic. While it looks to support artists and showcase the graffiti art form, it is doing the opposite.

King Listy explains, “Events like Yardworks are where the funding needs to go. It shows off artists in the area while also allowing beginners to come in and learn about the scene.”

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