Striking, massive in scale and prone to being demolished . . . Glasgow’s street art has become a celebrated part of its urban landcape and a tourist draw. Ann Wallace talked to one of its pioneers, Rogue One

TAXI, held by multi-coloured balloons, lifts gently off the ground. An elephant swims beside a Dalek and a diver in a vision of what lies beneath the River Clyde. A woman holds a giant glass, upturned, allowing viewers to stand as if they were trapped within it...

The world of Glasgow street art is a surreal place, although as one of its most famous creators Rogue One – aka Bobby McNamara – points out, it’s not a new invention.

“Murals like these have been around since the 70s and 80s. John Byrne did a lot, for example, and in places like Maryhill and Easterhouse you’d see them all the time,” says Bobby, who says he got into graffiti art “the classic way”.

Glasgow Times: Rogue One Rogue One (Image: Rogue One)
“Now you get people going to art school to do it, but when I was growing up, we were just tagging, looking for abandoned spaces and derelict buildings to spray paint,” he explains. “For me, there have always been two kinds of graffiti artists: the ones who are just into vandalism and the ones who want to be artistic and create something amazing.

“I’d always drawn since I was at school and, eventually, I started to do more detailed work. I liked the photorealistic stuff that was appearing – more figurative and character-based, than lettering – and you’d team up with friends who were doing similar things and make a production together.”
Bobby started a course in graphic design at Cardonald College after leaving school but he left shortly after his reputation for bold, big street art won him his first commission.

“People would come up to me and say: ‘Oh, you’re the guy that does the murals!’,” he adds, grinning. “I got asked to paint something for the student union and I was pretty taken back. I remember thinking: ‘Okay, I can get paid for doing this?’.”
A few exhibitions – inside galleries, this time – followed, but it was Bobby’s reputation for big colourful street murals that brought him to the attention of a wide range of organisations, from Glasgow City Council to clothing chain Urban Outfitters.

Glasgow Times: Rogue OneRogue One (Image: Rogue One)
“Glasgow was following other European cities like Paris and Berlin, who already had street murals,” he explains. “The funny thing was, when the council first approached me and some other graffiti artists about doing works, we were all really wary because it seemed so unlikely that they’d want us to do ‘legal’ graffiti.”
He laughs: “So none of us replied. Then we saw that Smug, who had moved to Glasgow from Australia, had got the job and he was producing these amazing artworks. It was all really weird but it just grew from there.”

Rogue One’s work is now famous across the city, from his floating cab – ‘The World’s Most Economical Taxi’ – just off Argyle Street, and CR Mackintosh, above the Clutha and Victoria Bars on Stockwell Street, to the quirky riverscape A View from the Clyde, on the Broomielaw, featuring the aforementioned elephants and Daleks, which is one of Bobby’s favourites.

Glasgow Times: Rogue OneRogue One (Image: Rogue One)
“I work a lot with the collective Art Pistol, and this one came from a story we heard about one of the ships that was transporting animals up the river back at the turn of the 20th Century,” he explains.

“The animals were on their way to a big exhibition at Kelvingrove Park and apparently one of the elephants actually fell off the boat into the Clyde – thankfully, it was rescued.”

His work attracts a lot of attention, particularly from tourists.

“There have been lots of funny situations over the past 10 years, when I’ve been on the bus or walking down the street, and I have overheard people talking about my work,” he says, smiling. “Sometimes I’ll watch one of the mural walking tours and just stand and listen in to what they’re saying – it’s always a laugh when the guide spots me and realises who I am.”

Glasgow Times: Rogue OneRogue One (Image: Rogue One)
Bobby is a big fan of other artists working on Glasgow murals, such as Smug, Mark Worst and duo Conzo and Glöbel. Of his own works, his favourites include two which are no longer there – Shadow Hand Puppets, in a Cowcaddens underpass, and the Hip Hop Marionettes on John Street.

“I loved doing the Shadow Hand Puppets because I used my family and friends as models, so it was actually really lovely to have them all involved,” he says. 

“I think lots of locals really enjoyed the Hip Hop Marionettes. I even bought my own puppet to study how it moved for the artwork. They have both been demolished now, which is a real shame, of course, but it is the nature of graffiti art. Buildings will get torn down, spaces will get built on, works fade in the sun or get painted over.”

Bobby adds: “Things you have done will disappear but they’ll always have had a part in the history and heritage of the city.”