Graffiti and tattoo artist Adam Milroy battled time and the elements to create an expansive aquatic homage to Dundee’s famous Tay Whale.
From the Tay Road Bridge, his artwork stretches out big and bold.
Adam says: “When you come into a city famous for its creativity and the first thing you see is a big, colourful mural – you know where you’re at.”
Now the work is finally done, he reflects: “I just want people to go down there and get a wee, friendly surprise.”
‘It was crazy’
The first part of the project to liven up hoarding panels along Waterfront Place was painted in late March 2020, just before lockdown.
But Adam, 37, only managed to complete the mural at the end of April before resuming his work at tattoo studio Tribal Skribe when it reopened for business in Lochee.
He says: “It was crazy – out with my T-shirt one minute then scarf on the next. The wind scuppered our plans – time wasn’t on my side to get it finished.”
The project was commissioned by the Dundee City Centre and Harbour Community Council and cycling network Sustrans. “This is my biggest solo project at over 50 metres,” Adam goes on. “We’ve just included a new 14-metre extension.”
The mural is over four times the size of the Tay Whale, the bones of which can still be seen at The McManus Galleries.
Story of the whale
When the young humpback appeared in the Firth of Tay back in 1883 it took Dundee by storm. It was extremely usual for a creature like this to appear in the river – and it’s thought it was led there while pursuing food.
Unfortunately for the whale, it had arrived in a city famed for hunting its very species. It took local whalers six weeks to catch because it kept escaping.
The whale was harpooned and later died near Stonehaven. The skeleton was donated to Dundee’s museum by whale merchant John Woods, who also went by the nickname “Greasy Johnny”.
Adam explains: “The story of the Tay Whale was it was coming down the river chasing after a shoal of herring. I want people to feel a sense of depth when walking past, so the foreground is textured and detailed with the density of darker blues in the background. It kind of swallows you up when you stand next to it.”
He goes on: “The plan was to go from the depths of whale territory into shallower water – ocean into river – and you’re seeing the fish and the light is changing through the water.”
I want it to be unique. It’s a unique city – we’ve got our own identity here.”
Adam’s mural forms part of an exciting new development of the waterfront area. It is located next to the urban beach development, which is set to include a life-size whale sculpture.
Part of the city’s graffiti community for the two decades, Adam’s work has appeared across Dundee and he has also worked in the United States.
Like most graffiti artists, he started out learning on the streets but has gradually become a well-known member of the artistic community.
‘Paid my fines’
“I’ve been practising with spray cans for over 20 years,” Adam explains. “I’ve been caught doing illegal stuff, but I’ve paid my fines and moved on to a more professional capacity.”
Adam is already part of the team that runs Dundee Graffiti Jam – the largest annual graffiti event of its kind in Scotland. He’s passionate about giving graffiti artists a platform to shine and has exciting plans for the future.
He concedes public art might not be for everyone: “The folks of Dundee would complain about the glare if the streets were paved with gold!”
But Adam believes this is Dundee’s chance to do something different: “I’ve been watching this development since the plans came out about 20 years ago. I love my city and the landscape is changing.
“I don’t want to see all your generic nonsense: your Starbucks, McDonald’s. I want it to be unique. It’s a unique city – we’ve got our own identity here.”