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TOM MILLER: Art has power to transform Dundee – and remind us of city’s reinvention

Art shouldn’t be confined to the city’s galleries and museums.

Dundee-based artist Giorgos Asvestas.
Dundee-based artist Giorgos Asvestas.

My first encounter with Giorgos Asvestas, as he worked on a vibrant mural across one of the Generator Projects exterior walls, wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

I admired the welcome splash of colour on a drab breezeblock wall as he told me of an unpleasant exchange with a neighbouring resident.

The individual, seemingly a paid-up member of the ‘not in my backyard’ club, had told Asvestas the work-in-progress was not exactly to his liking.

“That’s an eyesore,” he’d barked, “and I hope you put the wall back to how it was.”

The resident left with a hmph, parting with the threat of a complaint to Dundee City Council.

I look forward to the complainant learning that Dundee City Council supported the commission, alongside the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

But more, I’m struck by a struggle to empathise with the objection and can’t see how a plain industrial estate wall is anything to be celebrated, let alone protected.

‘Don’t confine art to galleries and museums’

Dundee can be proud of its contribution to the country’s cultural landscape.

Asvestas, an illustrator and artist, is a 2022 graduate of Duncan and Jordanstone College of Art and Design which ranks consistently highly as one of the UK’s best art schools.

The V&A Dundee and Dundee Contemporary Arts bring some of Scotland’s most exciting talents to our doorstep.

And of course I can’t neglect to mention the Beano characters, created here and drawn in The Courier’s Meadowside HQ each week, known the world over.

We’re a city with real artistic heritage and bold creative ambitions…but wandering local streets and neighbourhoods, it can sometimes be hard to feel this reflected in our surroundings.

Giorgos Asvestas beside mural.

Dundee’s cityscape – not to mention the haar – can leave the impression that we live in an eternal greyscale at times.

And so it’s my view that art shouldn’t be confined to the city’s galleries and museums.

It has the power to transform our everyday surroundings and remind us that Dundee itself is a city undergoing reinvention.

This is why Generator Projects, an artist-led exhibition and events space in a Mid Wynd industrial unit, should be applauded for the bold commission.

‘Moments for Instagram’

Large scale murals are a fantastic way to show off the creative talents of our city, to build pride among those who live here and inspire imagination in our young.

Dundee has ambitions to become a top tourist destination and today’s generation of traveller needs Instagrammable moments.

Photos of Edinburgh’s Victoria Street and Tobermory’s Main Street light up feeds the world over, while murals of Saint Mungo and Billy Connolly have become must-visits along the Glasgow’s city centre art trail.

And while we’ve not quite hit the technicoloured highs of Glasgow’s southside and its hand-painted signs, it’s clear local businesses are doing their bit to brighten up our days.

The "Marmalade on Toast" mural. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.
The Marmalade on Toast mural at Keiller Centre. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.

Dundee’s vibrant West End certainly stands out in this regard.

The bold lilac front of EH9 Espresso (itself carrying a mural commissioned by Open/Close Dundee) and the gilded signage of Benjamin Barker barbershop both do their bit to up the saturation levels.

Local designer Hayley Scanlan has just moved out of her studio but perhaps the next resident will leave her pastels in place.

‘Brighten up our lives’

The arts are facing immense funding pressures and too many of DJCAD’s excellent graduates move away to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

I revisited the Generator Projects work last week as it neared completion.

Happily, as I approach this time, West End resident Marie is admiring the wall: “I love this splash of colour and we all need to brighten up our lives.

Wellgate car park mural in 2022. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson.

“Why not appreciate the talent we have?”

Marie made an important observation: “The bins along Perth Road have all been painted brightly, and never vandalised.”

Indeed, there are studies that link public art with reduced rates of crime.

I asked Asvestas how he felt now the piece was complete. Undeterred, he wondered: “Will the neighbour change their mind now the piece is finished?”

Tom Miller is DC Thomson’s chief transformation officer and lives in Dundee.

A Celestial Garden (2023) by Giorgos Asvestas will be celebrated at a launch event on Friday December 8 at 2.30pm at Generator Projects, Mid Wynd. More work by Asvestas can be seen at @artbyasvestas on Instagram.