The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) threatened a student with expulsion in early July if he did not stop his non-commissioned street art project that appeared around Glasgow.
Masters student Peter Drew, who has been pasting up his art around the city since September 2012, had been working on a Shakespearean-themed street art project – typically featuring a combination of pixelated figures and quotes from the Bard’s plays – which aimed to brighten up the darker walls of the city.
He received a warning letter from his advisor at GSA over the summer stating that the continuation of his project may endanger his status as an international student. Specifically, he was warned that there was a chance he could draw the attention of the UK border agency who may seek to revoke his visa.
The letter came as a surprise to Drew, who had included details of his previous street art projects in his application to the School and has been very open in regard to having carried out non-commissioned work since 2007 – both in his hometown of Adelaide in Australia and London. In fact, he believes its inclusion was instrumental in securing his place at the prestigious institution. Since starting at the school, he has maintained this openness with the school through his advisor.
Though technically illegal, as no permission was sought from property owners, the artwork significantly contrasts with the scribblings typically associated with the term ‘graffiti’. Drew’s Glasgow work had been positively featured in a couple of STV articles earlier this year. An earlier project, aptly named ‘Home’, saw portraits of Drew’s family and friends pasted up on Glasgow’s walls.
Drew said: “In the time I’ve been living in Glasgow I’ve met plenty of people around the city and at the school who are supportive of what I do. Unfortunately none of them are in charge of my course.”
As one of Europe’s leading institutions in its field, and with three winners of the Turner Prize spanning its alumni in the last decade alone, Drew expected the GSA to be more tolerant of all forms of artwork. He said: “I really didn’t expect this of the GSA, especially after they were so tolerant for the first 6 months of my stay.”
Additionally, at the time of his application and up until this point, the GSA had voiced no concerns to Drew and had previously used pictures of his artwork in their promotional materials and on the web page detailing Drew’s degree course (the Master of Research in Creative Practices).
Drew believes that the turning point in the GSA’s tolerance may have been due to the increased quantity of street art he produced, but he remains confused and extremely disappointed in the reaction, particularly as there have not been any complaints from any Scottish authority, nor directly from the public.
However, he does empathise with the School to an extent: “I totally understand it’s difficult for large institutions to get behind illegal street art, so I do make the effort to undergo projects they’d find more tolerable.”
His Master’s thesis subject was in fact meant to explore the tense relations between large institutions and illegal street art – a topic in which he would have had a personal example to add. He made the decision to change this: “The topic of my thesis has shifted in response to this conflict.”
At risk of jeopardising the time and effort thus far dedicated to his Master’s degree, Drew has stated that he will be abiding by the School’s wishes. Those hoping for a glimpse of the artwork with their own eyes may be disappointed as the pieces are typically removed not long after their creation.
Drew explained: “If they are really threatening to kick me out I will have to stop. I’ll admit that I was tempted to join the proud tradition of artists who have been expelled from art school, but I just couldn’t stand the idea of them taking all my money without giving me that magic piece of paper to hang on the wall.”
He is, however, currently considering a multitude of possible routes via which his art could continue to go up around Glasgow. He told the Guardian of his forthcoming plans: “My next big project will be a push to disregard the monarchy before the handsome face of ‘King Charles’ starts appearing on our coins.
“I’ll start it off in Australia, but it will work here also. I’ve found that Scots and Aussies have the same distaste for the monarchy. Actually, both countries have plenty of great things in common. I guess that’s why I love both places.”