In late 2015 I had a meeting with a local Scottish Borders community organisation called Energise Galashiels. Once dominated by a thriving textile industry and the subject of two Robert Burns poems, the group were concerned that Gala town centre was becoming bedraggled and they were resolved to rectify this.
The opportunity to work with a motivated local group in order to help change the destiny of a town seemed like another exciting artistic adventure. I had worked on a similar project in the Midlothian area of Mayfield and Easthouses, creating a community mural with school kids to enliven the entrance to their town.
We resolved to launch a new crowd mural using the impending visit of the iconic Flying Scotsman train both as subject matter and as a launch event. I brought my train to town on 12 bespoke five foot squared canvas boards and locals were invited to put their friends and family into the picture for a modest donation.
Dressed in my usual painting regalia (a leather kilt, tweed waistcoat and top hat) I worked in town from Friday morning through till Sunday evening, painting the picture and collecting photo reference in the form of portraits of Gala locals. I had helpers in the form of two young painters named Kat and Robbie, plus my mate Charlie and two Sheilas (Sheila Armstrong and Sheila Robertson), who worked as a team gathering the reference material. My kids Red and Riley also helped on the Sunday.
After the live painting event in Galashiels, I took the picture back to Edinburgh’s Tron Kirk which was my main Edinburgh painting base at the time. I worked on it publicly for the next four months on and off, which basically involved digging my way out from underneath the mountain of photo reference that we had collected. I also painted a mixed selection of Galashiels notables and celebrities into the picture… and also Scottish TV favourite Lorraine kelly who always features in my pictures.
The finished painting was unveiled in Galashiels by Lord David Steel on October 1st, during the inaugural Creative Coathanger festival which featured a fortnight of events and artistic activity designed to cement Gala’s place as a creative hub for the borders and take advantage of the brand new train link. Many excited participants gathered in front of the mural to find themselves amongst the painted crowds and the event garnered articles in all the Scottish newspapers and on STV Borders.
The real hope is that this brand new and welcoming imagery at the doorway of the town will help create a new story for the community and support the forging of a bright future for Galashiels.