Galashiels is a Scottish Borders town with a strong history and a heritage of Victorian artwork. However, like many modern towns, it’s been swamped by a uninspiring mix of generic national chainstore shop fronts which dominate the urban landscape but offer no site-specific Gala-related imagery.
A local group of citizens called ‘Energise Gala’ approached me asking if I had any ideas on how to improve the area. I have a real interest in the idea of space changing, whether it be transforming interior rooms or exterior areas of towns. This seemed fantastic opportunity to start changing the visual narrative of the town for the better.
Galashiels recently gained a new rail link which is a major bonus to the town, but its physical gateway is not massively welcoming at the moment, and it has been looking a bit bedraggled. The iconic Flying Scotsman train visited the town in May 2016, which proved to be a major event in the area, and so we decided to use this theme in creating a brand new gateway mural. It seemed like a positive and dynamic metaphor at the centre of the picture, and as luck would have it, we found an available wall in an ideal location just over Douglas Bridge on the entry to the town.
Including the community in the very fabric of the painting was vital to project, so I decided to build one of my crowd murals alongside the image of the Flying Scotsman and cast the locals in the crowd scene. After preparing a basic train painting in Edinburgh, we threw a launch event in Gala where I gathered lots of locals’ photo reference for the portrait painting. Some young people from the community also helped paint in the event and a small team from Energise Gala made the photo references.
If you want to see the mural in progress, it is currently housed in the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. I’ve almost completed using all of the photo reference that I gathered during the launch weekend and am now opening it up so the general public can sign up if they want to be included in the crowd scene. It will be my main project throughout Edinburgh festival 2016. The plan is to have the picture finished and hung in Galashiels at the October 2016 ‘Creative Coathanger’ event – a festival of all things design and the creative arts.