Supercreative Glasgow: gifted graduates on how the city inspired them
Glasgow, Scotland’s first city, is a cultural and creative hub. Compact and beautifully formed, it boasts a big-city attitude, with world-class architecture, thriving galleries and a burgeoning student culture – the City of Glasgow College, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow Clyde College, Glasgow School of Art, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde make it one of the UK’s largest student cities. Here, 14 of the city’s most talented graduates reveal how Glasgow has inspired them
‘It felt very free,’ says Glasgow Clyde College alumna Louise Gray, recounting vivid memories of her student days in Glasgow. ‘It definitely influenced my design style.’ The outdoor concerts and flea markets at The Barras, especially, furnished the designer with her most vivid Glasgow memories. Louise went on to study at The Glasgow School of Art. ‘The weaving studio was in the top of this huge tower, so you could see the whole of Glasgow,’ she recalls. ‘It was amazing.’ Following graduation in Glasgow, Gray studied for an MA in London and was selected by the talent-nurturing initiative Fashion East to showcase her collections. Her bold and brightly coloured hand knits and modern folk collections, adorned with embellishment and detail, won her NEWGEN sponsorship for London Fashion Week after three seasons. A collaboration with Topshop followed.
With a recent solo show at Glasgow’s Mary Mary gallery and his art featuring in exhibitions in Copenhagen and New York, The Glasgow School of Art graduate Alistair Frost’s work is a painterly landscape of clean lines and brushstrokes that references leisure, fashion, and archly contemporary lifestyle tropes; his pieces are titled Image Coming Soon and Out of Office Auto Reply. ‘I love how he speaks his mind and combines Glasgow social history and fantasy, often with an element of humour,’ says fellow Glasgow graduate Charlotte Helyar of his work. Now based in London, Frost’s freewheeling cultural tour of Glasgow is a typically terse and arch blend of old and new, classic and kitsch. He’s a fan of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed The Glasgow School of Art building, The State Bar on Holland Street, Sauchiehall Street ‘on a Friday night’ and the magnificent Glasgow Necropolis cemetery.
‘Aggressively friendly’, that’s how fashion and textiles designer Charlotte Helyar likes to describe Glasgow and its people. Born and raised in the city, Helyar took an HND in fashion textiles at Glasgow Clyde College. Specialising in printed textiles, her work plays homage to 1980s album sleeve art and analogue graphics from the postmodernist movement. Now based in London, where she currently works as a print designer for Stella McCartney, Helyar still enjoys regular visits to her home town, wandering around the rapidly gentrifying Finnieston area, walking in Kelvingrove Park or trawling the vintage shops on Byres Road. ‘Though it's barely recognisable as the place I grew up in, I still feel oddly nostalgic and at home in Glasgow. It's amazing how much the place seems to have changed.’
The director of Glasgow Caledonian University's British School of Fashion, Christopher M Moore cites Zaha Hadid’s Riverside Museum, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Lighthouse building and the verse of Edwin Morgan (Glasgow's first Poet Laureate) as key cultural references. Once an English language and literature undergraduate at the University of Glasgow, he knew he was meant to study there as soon as he walked into the university's Reading Room. ‘I didn’t think that much about the reputation, subjects, expertise or famous alumni of the university,’ he says. ‘It was simply the most stylish room that I had ever been in!’ Stepping back and looking at the contribution of Glasgow through the widest lens, it seems to me that Glaswegians are a percolation of resilience, sentimentality, tolerance, ingenuity and irony.’ Glasgow, Moore wants to remind us, means: ‘dear green place’.
Having gained a degree in applied graphics and multimedia design from Glasgow Caledonian University back in 2004, Anderson hooked up with his friend Daniel Freytag to establish the award-winning, Glasgow-based design consultancy Freytag Anderson. ‘Glasgow, in my opinion, is now the best place in Scotland for the creative industries,’ he says. Why? Charles Rennie Mackintosh is partly responsible. ‘He’s undoubtedly Glasgow’s most famous graduate,’ says Anderson. ‘And it’s impossible to underestimate the impact that he made on the city, especially for any students coming through programmes at The Glasgow School of Art.’ Turner Prize nominee (and The Glasgow School of Art graduate) David Shrigley is another inspiration. ‘Although not Scottish himself, I feel that the simplicity, intelligence, immediacy and humour in his work is reminiscent a little of the Glasgow personality… perhaps he picked up some of that whilst studying here.’
As a young man, Gunnar Groves-Raines was desperate for something different. ‘Glasgow was exciting and energetic and looked like an ever-changing place where things actually happened,’ explains Groves-Raines. ‘I wanted to be in a city close to the mountains, lochs and the sea and ideally in Scotland. The architecture courses were excellent too …and free.’ He graduated from the University of Strathclyde in 2006 with a Master’s with distinction in advanced architectural design, worked with Lincoln & Campbell Quinn Associates throughout his studies and qualified as an architect in 2009, before co-founding the Groves-Raines Architects Studio. Artist Richard Wright, a Glasgow resident, former Turner Prize nominee and a graduate of The Glasgow School of Art has proved to be a key and lasting influence on his career. ‘Wright’s work has an ethereal, transformational effect on existing spaces that is inspiring to me as an architect,’ says Groves-Raines. ‘I had the pleasure of living in a flat that had housed one of his works but also suffered the pain of seeing it painted over, days before we moved in. Staring at the ceiling, knowing what was behind the emulsion filled me with wonder and respect.’
A recent technical and production art graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Lennon originally studied with a specialism in set and costume design but has since gained experience at the Scottish Opera, the Young Vic, and the National Theatre of Scotland, with roles in costume assistance and costume departments in both theatre and film. A career highlight for Jessica Lennon was working alongside the crew of the National Theatre of Scotland on a one-man version of Macbeth, starring Scot polymath Alan Cumming. ‘Glasgow has a vibrant arts and culture scene and the RCS has a fantastic reputation for training some of Scotland's best theatre and film practitioners,’ she says. ‘People in Glasgow are passionate, friendly, and definitely proud. I wanted to be a part of that.’
Now associate director at London’ Royal Court Theatre, John Tiffany arrived at the University of Glasgow to begin an MA in theatre and classics back in 1990, when the city was already buzzing. ‘It was the European City of Culture, and a very vibrant place to be.’ He went to gigs at The Barrowlands, danced until dawn at the Sub Club and wandered the stretch of Argyle Street from St Vincent Street to Kelvin Way. ‘It’s at the other side of the M8 from the city centre and has restaurants like Crabshakk, fantastic charity shops and everything in-between.’ Since leaving Glasgow, Tiffany has worked as the associate director of the National Theatre of Scotland (2005 to 2012), winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Director, as well as a Critics’ Circle Award for Best Director on a production of Gregory Burke’s Iraq war play Black Watch. He also won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for his work on the musical play Once. Glasgow, he says, is a ‘demotic city, full of energy, heart and banter. Why say one word when 893 will do? That's a Glasgwegian.’
A recent graduate of product design engineering, a joint course between the University of Glasgow and The Glasgow School of Art, Martin Keane received the top student award from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and a distinction from the Incorporation of Hammermen Glasgow for his year-three studies. ‘The Glasgow of today is very much a forward-thinking European city,’ says Keane. ‘There's always something going on the design and culture scene. The people are, on the whole, very friendly, and most of them think they’re comedians.’ Keane’s favourite University of Glasgow alumnus? ‘It would have to be James Watt. Like me, he studied engineering and also comes from my home town of Greenock. Among many other things, he redesigned the steam engine to be more efficient, bringing it to a level where it was more useful to industry. His design kick-started the industrial revolution. The fact that he started off in the same town as me before studying in the same department in the University of Glasgow is something I find inspirational – and if I can have even a fraction of the influence he had over British industry I'll be very happy.’
‘Glasgow is a city with a great engineering heritage; most notably for its rich history of shipbuilding,’ says Michael Aldridge. ‘Today this is reflected in its universities and I was attracted to the city because of the University of Strathclyde and its reputation for engineering teaching.’ Aldridge is currently employed at Glasgow-based product design engineering consultancy 4c, designing ‘everything from board games to power stations’. He was part of the team that designed the Queen’s Baton for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Bennion completed an HND in architectural technology at the City of Glasgow College and a Master’s in advanced architectural design at the University of Strathclyde, before heading to Germany to study the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar’s international advanced architectural design course. He has always been a fan of Glasgow’s architectural aesthetic. ‘Glasgow’s scale strikes a perfect balance between big-city living and a small-town feel,’ explains Bennion. ‘It has all the draw and amenities of a larger city but you can traverse the centre, on foot, in just over ten minutes.’ Glasgow’s best buildings? Bennion chooses the Kingston Bridge for its ‘wonderful materiality and tactile qualities’ and Buchanan Street’s BOAC Building. ‘Such a beautiful construction. It fits so well to its site, but also stands out from the crowd. It takes the surrounding context and applies it in a new way.’ Now employed as an architectural assistant at the Glasgow-based architectural studio GRAS the city still provides inspiration for Bennion. ‘Looking down from Central Station's concourse, or from between Cochrane Street and Montrose Street, you get the full effect of the city’s grid layout but without anything interrupting the view. Glasgow's geography makes the view endless.’
With hats that reference floristry, illustration, British birds and Glasgow architecture, a clientele that includes Kelis, Joan Jett, Ana Matronic and Walt Disney Studios, a recently opened shop in Merchant City and a brand endorsement via fellow milliner Stephen Jones (‘he makes things that are classically beautiful in an elegant way, but with a modern edge’), William Chambers is now a fully fledged figure in Glasgow’s creative salon. He studied millinery at Glasgow's Metropolitan University (now City of Glasgow College). Chambers lives and works in the city and finds continuous inspiration in its people, parks and buildings. A collaboration with The Glasgow School of Art graduate Georgia Wiseman, mixing sculptural brass jewellery design with Chambers’ distinctive millinery, has made for some striking hats. ‘I love the work of Margaret MacDonald, the wife of Charles Rennie Mackintosh,’ says Chambers. ‘Her beautifully intricate art nouveau designs and drawings inspired my early textile work and this has infiltrated through to my millinery today.’ And for time off? Chambers suggests you pull on a woolly hat and head to Glasgow’s Pollok County Park. ‘It has beautiful forests, gardens, a country house, a museum, a river, an old bridge and highland cows. It’s like a mini Scotland all in one place.’
Calum Huggan likes to bill himself as a ‘Scottish marimbist and percussionist, passionate about music and cross-arts collaborations’. With a first class honours in percussion from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Huggan recently became the first Briton to be accepted onto the advanced solo marimba course at the Royal College of Music, London, studying under virtuosic marimbist and composer Eric Sammut. Calum has also performed with orchestras such as BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Ensemble, Scottish Opera and National Theatre Mannheim; he recently made his international debut as guest principal with Jyväskylä Sinfonia, Finland, and as a soloist in Abu Dhabi. ‘Glasgow people? They are kind, humorous, honest, brave, stylish and pure dead brilliant.’
Canadian-born Ciara Phillips is an artist who lives and works in Glasgow, creating provocative, printmaking pieces and site-specific installations that occupy the margins between craft, art and design. While studying for a Master’s in fine art at The Glasgow School of Art, alumnus artist Norman McLaren was an influential figure for Phillips. ‘He went on to become a celebrated animator and hugely important figure in the National Film Board of Canada. I love, and always return to looking at, his 1971 piece Synchromy for its innovation and humour.’ Phillips likes to collaborate not just with other artists, but also social-activist groups including Artlink Central in Glasgow, which works with the disabled, and Justice for Domestic Workers in London. She has been nominated for this year’s prestigious Turner Prize award.