I don’t know how he does it! That’s what everyone came away thinking after artist Alec Galloway’s Tuesday morning talk at the Kelly Gallery on 29 May. As Alec talked about his exhibitions, commissions and stained glass restoration work, you couldn’t help but wonder if the artist ever sleeps. And let’s not forget that he is also a lecturer in architectural glass at Edinburgh College of Art and teaches art Low Moss Prison, as well as being an accomplished musician.
For the talk, Alec mainly homed in on his stained glass work, as his current exhibition The Centurion and the Sparrow at the Kelly Gallery is based on the 10 windows he created for Maryhill Burgh Halls in conjunction with Margo Winning There are three strands to Alec’s stained glass work: large-scale pieces of public art; restoration; and gallery type panels, some of which are showcased in the exhibition.
Alec is magpie-like when it comes to collecting old glass, and feels that the cracked and damaged pieces all have a story to tell. Georgian wire glass with bullet holes form part of a new piece at the Kelly show which is inspired by John Lennon.
When a member of the audience asked if he found glass had come with ready-made bullet holes, we were relieved to hear that Alec used an air gun to create the holes himself, although a neighbour was concerned when he walked in and thought the artist was taking pot shots at the wall.
More recently, Alec has added a silk screen painting element to his work using glass paint and then firing the panel in a kiln. One commission for a hospital in Wales involved collaging images on glass. While working on a window for St Andrew’s College of Education, Alec involved the students in making the border by teaching them out to paint glass.
One of his fondest memories was when George Wyllie came to unveil Alec’s Govanhill window at the HQ of Govanhill Housing Association. “It was one of most unforgettable days of my life,” recalls Alec who acted as George’s chauffeur for the day.
“After delivering a wonderful off-the-cuff speech, when the ceremony was over, George asked if we could go on a detour as he’d left his ‘bunnet’ in a friend’s house. The friend turned out to be the art critic Cordelia Oliver and we spent all afternoon looking at and talking about paintings by the great and the good of Scottish art. ”
The current exhibition includes paintings and stained glass windows inspired by the 10 stained glass windows at the Burgh Halls. Alec was commissioned in 2010 as part of the ongoing refurbishment of the halls which already had 20 windows made by Stephen Adams, dating from the time the halls were first built in 1878.
The windows were very unusual for the period as they depicted working people in the glass – from canal workers to teachers. Now all the 20 original windows are cleaned up and ready for display alongside the new windows which reflect contemporary life in Maryhill.
Alec immersed himself in the history of Maryhill and the area itself, sketching and photographing, with plenty of pit stops in Jaconelli’s café which is depicted in one of the windows which take in everything from local school children and Lock 21 to Maryhill’s astonishing number of Turner Prize winners.
“One particularly fascinating focus has been the links to the Wild West, not of Glasgow but the plains and canyons of the USA,” explains Alec. “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!”