Last year I spent time painting various spots in The Three Sisters, a famous pub on Edinburgh’s Cowgate. The venue was named after the three Mackinnon sisters Cath, Kitty, and Maggie, famous in the 1740s for gracing Edinburgh stages with their singing, dancing and beauty. It is a large complex of bars, and inside this network of rooms is housed Edinburgh’s Student Union Bar.
The Three Sisters asked me back this year to further improve the Student Union. This time I took on a tired and bedraggled looking corridor which before I arrived, wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1970s office block. They wanted some new artwork that was very Edinburgh-themed, would energise the space, and had some relevance to the diverse university students who frequent the space.
The main wall in the corridor now has an impressionist vista of Edinburgh with the castle illuminated by the world famous bi-annual fireworks display.
I took the artwork onto the ceiling as well as the walls in order to give the area an immersive feel. As the scene moved further away from the firework end of the corridor, the idea was to give it a ‘starry night’ / Van Gogh inspired look. The ThreeSisters also had me paint the walls at the far end with notable university buildings from around the city.
On a completely different theme, The Three Sisters asked me to reflect the Cowgate location of the bar in another mural. The venue is surrounded by a maze of vaulted arches that hold the buildings of the area up, and so I painted a map to the vaults under George IV Bridge with a pop art/brightly coloured feel.
The whole job was done to deadline in under a week, just after the Edinburgh Festival finished but before the onslaught of students for Freshers Week.
Fingers crossed it will keep the students happy and ultimately lead to increased footfall through the door – always the mark of a successful project for me!
The Bristol Bar in the east end of Glasgow has become one of my regular clients. In 2013 I themed their main bar with an excited Ibrox football crowd mural and I reappear annually to paint more portraits into the picture. Click here to see photos of the Ibrox mural.
The Bristol Bar is a real party hotspot; they take fun very seriously. In July of 2017 they decided to hold a beach party using a redundant space at the back of the bar which was in need of a face lift. When I arrived owners Greg and Harry had created a sky-blue plywood-clad room as a gigantic canvas for me; the entire space was roughly 9 metres square and 3.6 metres tall.
Good Vibrations in Glasgow’s East End
The plan was to paint it in three days…. it turned out to be three very long days!
Over the course of the project I painted a variety of scenes including a monster crab eating an ice cream cone, a parrot stood in front of a Bristol Bar-themed beach hut and a large octopus with a Rangers coloured dome, using the existing wall light as one of the eyes. I also created two cutout boards themed around voluptuous mermaids with holes for customers to poke their heads through. I also painted two large surfing sharks, a hammerhead and a great white. The bar wanted a comical nod to the Rangers rivalry with Celtic so I took a bite sized chunk out of the great white’s board and hung a rogue foot with a Celtic tattoo from the tether, as though the shark had stolen the board from a fan.
The day after I left, 12 tonnes of sand were brought to the bar and installed in the space, followed by the installation of some fake palm trees and as a special treat they added a surf machine.
This was then used for a surf competition with the longest rider winning a holiday to Thailand.
Plans are afoot to hold more beach parties as the year unfolds and really use the space to its best advantage. We may re-theme the room around different concepts in the future.
Judging from their Facebook photos, the Bristol Bar really knows how to throw a party!
After six years at my previous studio at St Margaret’s House in Edinburgh, I recently moved to Custom House in Leith; a stunning neoclassical pillared building that is a central landmark on the Leith landscape. After a prolonged period as the National Museums of Scotland’s storage facility, this A-List Georgian building is now being managed by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust who are encouraging a wide variety of creative people to build a new hive of activity in the heart of Leith.
There are two distinct buildings on the site: a the larger, more grand building situated on the corner of the Commercial Street and the Water of Leith, and the “cruiser” store, located behind the main building on a narrow cobbled lane that has been hidden from view for years. My new studio backs directly onto this lane via an extremely handy loading bay and this provides me with much better access for loading my often bulky murals.
Even more exciting however is the nascent creative community that is burgeoning within the space. The Christmas event on 17th and 18th December was the first open studio day that I’d been involved in at the Custom House since the move and therefore I thought I’d celebrate by undertaking my first live painting event in the new space.
The large loading bay was an extremely bland and tired-looking area so with the blessing of SBHT Director Una Richards, we set out to give it a seasonal makeover. As our new studio opens directly onto this space, I felt it was extremely important it project the creativity and joy that the new building and its new tenants aspire to. I enlisted my studio manager Sheila Masson – a talented artist (as well as a powerful brain) and we started work on the Wednesday afternoon, priming the space in preparation for our plan.
We decided to paint a Narnia themed mural as although there is a Christmas element to the story, it does not define it, so therefore the mural will remain relevant till spring. We spray painted a snowy landscape with a large scale Aslan and the ubiquitous lamp post front and centre. Sheila made a number of beautiful snow stencils that really set the tone and we quickly built an atmospheric frosted landscape.
Come the main event on the Saturday however it was important that we kept spray paints to a minimum due to the health and safety issues (and the pong!). The alley was filled food stalls and visitors to the building as well as regular Leith Farmers Market shoppers who wandered into the newly revealed space.
Moving on from the spray painted walls I changed my focus to shaped life size characters from the book, cut from large sheets of wooden board. I snared a few tenants and SHBT friends to pose for the The White Witch, her dwarf, Mr. Tumnus and a large scale Santa.
To keep the characters on theme and to compliment the visuals in the loading bay, I reused Sheila’s stencils to add surface detailing. The end result had a vibrancy reminiscent of textile design or a Rauschenberg painting.
The joy for me in collaboration is that every new partner brings fresh tools to the army and in this way Sheila’s stencils and application to the cause really enriched the product and added a further depth and subtlety to my directness and drive.
The loading bay mural is now established and the plan is to periodically adapt the visuals over the coming months and years. The hope is the magic will be infectious and over the coming years the building will permanently acquire some of the magic of Narnia.
The Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP) is a trilogy of artworks by Jimmy Cauty on a nationwide tour across the UK – each artwork is a 1:87 scale model housed in a shipping container, which are viewed through observation ports in the sides of the containers. It was also installed at Dismaland, the temporary art project organised by street artist Banksy and constructed in the seaside resort town of Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, England in 2015.
The artwork has been touring the UK in 2016, specifically appearing in venues where there has been a history of rioting. Edinburgh’s Grassmarket was chosen as one of the tours destinations as it was the scene of the 1736 Porteous Riots, when Captain John Porteous, an unpopular chief of the City Guard, was overseeing the hanging of a local smuggler Andrew Wilson. When the watching crowds began to get unruly, Captain Porteous instructed the City Guard to shoot above the crowd’s heads and they subsequently wounded local residents who were watching from tenement windows. This exacerbated the already volatile situation, at which point Porteous instructed the the City Guard to shoot into the crowd, resulting in the deaths of six people.
Captain Porteous was arrested for murder but after discovering that plans were afoot to arrange a pardon for him, a mob converged on the Tolbooth on the Royal Mile and he was dragged out of his prison cell and back down to the Grassmarket, where he was lynched, dying a deeply unpleasant death. Captain Porteous was buried in the adjacent Greyfriars Kirkyard in a grave marked with a simple ‘P’. This was replaced in 1973 by a stone bearing his full name and the moniker ‘All passion spent’.
Ahead of the closing weekend of the ADP Riot Tour’s installation in Edinburgh, I was asked by the Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District (BID) and events organisers Too Much Fun Club to paint a mural of the scene alongside renowned Scottishstreet artist and illustrator, Elph. Working on connected octagonal boards, Elph and I engaged visitors to the Grassmarket as we worked on our separate but related public art works.
Elph invited audience participation with hands-on painting by the public, and I convinced visitors to pose for portraits to be incorporated into the scene. My crowd scene painting was inspired in part by James Drummond RSA who painted the riot in 1855.
Our pictures were situated back to back over the weekend and it was really great to have the two different styles complement and contrast one another and in an unintentional twist, even our clothes ended up matching our paintings.
Elph also created some fantastic 360 degree footage of the two murals which can be viewed here: Elph 1 and Elph 2
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.