Too edgy for Maryhill?
RGI Kelly Gallery 29 May – 9 June
Alec Galloway The Centurion & the Sparrow
The Maryhill effect
As a glass artist, painter, and lecturer in Architectural Glass at Edinburgh College of Art, Ayrshire based Alec Galloway is an artist in demand, but he’s carved out time for a solo exhibition at the RGI Kelly Gallery.
Alec works under the company banner of Cara Stained Glass, a studio he set up to accommodate his first large scale glass commission, and the practice has grown into of the country’s most highly respected glass studios.
This new exhibition is inspired by the 10 stained glass windows created last year to represent modern Maryhill.They were designed by Alec Galloway and Margo Winning, based on the ideas and suggestions of over 200 local people, with key funding for the project provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Here Alec tells us the inside story on this new exhibition: “In late 2010 both Margo and I were appointed as the chosen artists to undertake the commission for the new stained glass windows to be installed as part of the Maryhill Burgh Halls refurbishment project. These designs would sit opposite the original Stephen Adam trades windows from 1878.
“It’s true to say that we were elated to have been chosen, and very quickly set out our plans in relation to how we would tackle the initiative. Putting it simply, Margo would plan all community elements and provide avenues for engagement and research, while I would decode the info and make the windows!
“The new body of work in this show at the RGI Kelly, reflects a lot of what came out of the community strands, the people, the places, the stories, the history; basically everything that we learned and experienced on our journey.
“Nothing prepared me for the ‘Maryhill effect’, and it became increasingly clear that the project was so much more than a normal public art initiative. Some of the gathered research turned out to be unsuitable for the public ideas in glass, and for the exhibition at the Kelly, many of these elements have surfaced in this new body of work.
“That’s not to say we didn’t have freedom of expression, the Burgh Halls Trust gave us a long leash and also just that – trust. Given the windows’ prominent public stance, I had to draw a line of decency somewhere in the sand, which is why I have been able to perhaps deal with some of the more ‘colourful’ aspects of the gathered material in the new paintings.
“For a start, I certainly believe that there is something different in the makeup of Maryhill-ers if I can call them that. We often joked about the fact that there are several artists from the area who have won the Turner prize; coincidence, or do these people have some kind of super human power?
“For me the warmth and generosity of spirit were the keys to why I became so engaged with people and place, and also why I think the public works have been successful, as they are imbued with the character of the people and the region.
“The title, The Centurion and the Sparrow, reflects the area’s Roman past (the Antonine wall runs through it) and the everyday occurrence of a small bird landing close to me, demanding crumbs as I ate my sandwich at the canal one morning. They may have conquered half the world but they didn’t make it into the top ten window designs
“The irony of another situation is not lost on me either. I recently took up a teaching post at Low Moss prison, and one guy quickly rose to prominence as the classroom star as far as his artistic ability goes, and it just so happens that he is from Maryhill.
“When quizzing him recently about Maryhill gang logos in the area, he mentioned that one Butney Young Team, were so named because of their connections to Botany Bay, Australia. It transpires that many people were shipped from Maryhill to the penal colonies forming the first race of Anglo Australian.
“So the work here is maybe not as direct in terms of the story told through the window designs. Instead, I have focused on some of the elements that didn’t quite make the cut for windows, although there are several recognisable images such as Jaconelli’s or the sign for Shakespeare Street.
“One particularly fascinating focus has been the links to the Wild West, not of Glasgow but the plains and canyons of the USA. One of the original Stephen Adam windows had always remained a mystery as far as identification of the industry depicted in it – a figure operating a large circular device – but what was that device?
“However, during the course of this project it finally emerged that the window was dedicated to dye printing using a Hydro- static press, a machine known for producing a very particular red-Turkey dye which was used to print cowboy bandanas and also military redcoats.
“This is the kind of detail that I have found enchanting, the fact that the hard workers of Maryhill could toil to make a piece of material that could have adorned Buffalo Bill or Jesse James is irresistible!”