Meet Gaz Mac: SWG3's studio manager, a graffiti artist of 30 years and one of the main driving forces behind graffiti and street art in Scotland. We sat down to chat about his first steps in the subculture of graffiti and how it has taken shape in Scotland over the last 30 years.
When did it all begin for you?
I’ve been painting since 1984! Back then the hip-hop scene was exploding out of New York and a film called ‘Wild Style’ had just been released. It covered the whole hip-hop subculture with an emphasis on graffiti writers. It was all new then, and I really connected with it. The work of Zoro, one of the characters in the film, has always inspired me.
Myself and a friend then started a crew called Glasgow City Breakers, and since I’ve travelled all over the world painting graffiti. I’ve painted in Japan, the US, and I was even in Berlin when the wall came down. It’s been a real adventure.
Do you still like to paint with a crew?
Today, I tend to paint on my own. I do a lot of commissions for other people though. I’ve painted murals for the music festivals like T in the Park, and even the City Council! I’ve done work for football players and I even do stuff for Network Rail!
How has your work evolved over the years?
When I started out I was a bus driver (they never did figure out who was painting all of the bus carriages) and the company folded and I decided to study graphic design and illustration. I think this creative background combined with my work developing SWG3 has made me more professional, making my work more commercial.
What essentials do you pack for a night of painting?
Spray cans, custom caps, nozzles, stencils, rollers, ladder, gloves, masking tape, facemask.
You’re heavily involved with providing ‘legal walls’ to paint on - how did that come about?
When I finished college I met Mutley, the director of SWG3. At that time the building was just a shell. A huge, empty warehouse with loads of potential. I got involved and started helping him to develop the building and run events. One of the first big events we ran was a graffiti jam. It was a great opportunity to bring all these artists together and just give them a place to paint.
It was a big deal at the time. Glasgow has never had many ‘legal walls’ which obviously makes it hard to practice without breaking the law. As the building has developed, and we have more space than ever before, we’ve kept graffiti as a core focus alongside all the gigs and club nights we run. Our latest event, the Yardworks Festival just shows how much we’ve grown.
With more space and more resources, we were able to provide over 1000 metres of totally legal wall space to over 120 artists from all over the world.
Tell us more about the Scottish graffiti scene.
I reckon there are about 100 artists painting in Glasgow alone, so it’s a thriving scene but until now there wasn’t a dedicated space for graffiti. Now that we can offer legal wall space to more people, there’s no doubt it will continue to grow, and it’s great to show off the local talent at the Yardworks Festival. The vision is that the Yard becomes a ‘hall of fame’ in Scotland for graffiti and street art that is world renowned.
How does graffiti fit into the wider art scene in Scotland?
Some people don’t see graffiti as ‘Art’, but I think when it’s presented well, it is. If it’s thrown up badly or done illegally then sure, it’s a crime. I think it’s becoming more mainstream though - more widely accepted as ‘Art’. In Glasgow, there’s a strong creative scene and more and more people are getting involved. This year, we had over 5000 members of the public coming down to the festival - people love it - and it’s great to get people trying it out and inspiring them to start painting.