The Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District is a five-year project (starting February 2013) where all businesses within the defined area have come together to invest collectively to benefit business and local economy growth through local improvements, activities and business support in addition to those delivered by City of Edinburgh Council and Scottish Government. Their objectives include creating a sense of place, attracting more footfall to the area and raising the profile and improving the perception of the area, and I am delighted to be involved in these ambitions.
In 2014 I created my Half Hangit Maggie Dickson mural within this Greater Grassmarket BID area, live painting onsite the notorious story of the one of the areas most famous residents – a fishwife from Musselburgh who was hanged in the Grassmarket on the 2nd of September 1724 for murdering her illegitimate newborn baby. Miraculously she survived the hanging and as she could not be executed for a second time for the same crime, she received a full pardon and went on to live a long life, garnering the nickname ‘Half Hangit’ Maggie.’
In September of this year, the Greater Grassmarket BID events team led by Callum Ross wanted some extra colour in their proposed ‘Mobility Week’. Designed to celebrate mobility in all forms and set it within the historic context of the Grassmarket, they commissioned a diverse group of performers which included musicians, actors and even penny farthing demonstrations running up and down the square.
I was asked to provide some pictorial colour and I produced a two metre by two metre Victorian-era painting of two men on penny farthings racing a donkey-riding man through the Grassmarket. I took inspiration from the classic beachside postcards produced by Donald McGill in the early to mid 20th century, and built a painting that was fun and light humoured, very much in keeping with the spirit of the day
As always I asked visitors at the event to participate as characters in the picture, and they really entered the spirit of the piece. In addition to the new painting, I took my Maggie Dickson mural along and it was used as an evocative backdrop for the performers on the stage beside me. If possible it’s always nice to have some visual context from one of my previous artworks and visitors seem to enjoy seeing other finished pieces.
The event was held on my birthday and was a splendid way to spend the day, which was topped off by the best pastry ever delivered by Sheila, my studio manager.
The Oz Bar has been serving Edinburgh for more than twenty years and it has a strong legacy of artwork, including a boxing kangaroo and a few mini murals dotted around the premises. I was asked me to come in and give the place a brand new street art edge, smartening up the main space and toilets whilst retaining the pub’s character.
The ceiling of main bar had already been painted a dark green so I used this as a background for a huge image of a shark and a crocodile in combat. This is so big that you can only read it as you walk through the space.
To complement this and to add clarity, I painted an acrylic picture of ‘pool sharks’ hustling for above their table.
To emphasise the Australian theme we smartened up their signs by giving them an Aboriginal design throughout and also painted a massive new Australian flag as a frame for one of their existing pictures.
The male toilets have the familiar piquant aroma that many pubs can have, so I thought it would be funny to booby trap them with dangerous animals, as though the smell was venom. There is now a large funnel web spider trying to bite customers while they are on the throne and a tiger snake striking at their willies when they are having a wee.
The ladies loos has a gentler feel but perhaps no less dangerous, as it’s been decorated to feel as if you have stepped into a star-clad jellyfish. Both rooms are designed to be an entirely immersive experience.
The end result uses some of the Oz Bar’s well-established artwork to its best advantage, and the new additions blend seamlessly with the old, making it feel like it’s always been that way. Since the project was completed there has been an exponential increase in business – alongside the Edinburgh natives, students and tourists have come in droves and the pub is always lively, but not at the expense of their regulars’ happiness.
The Oz Bar is set for a new and exciting phase of trade and it’s great to know the artwork has made a difference.