A recent exhibition by Scottish artist and illustrator Alex Weir, Doon the Street, celebrated the typical Scottish high street. Situated in an abandoned supermarket-cum-charity shop in Bonnyrigg, eight miles southeast of Edinburgh, the show explored the contrasts between Alex’s childhood in Prestwick, a small town along the west coast in Ayrshire, and his current life in Leith, a port district of the Scottish capital.
Though he studied painting at the Edinburgh College of Art, Alex has recently ventured into the world of illustration. He makes books, T-shirts, posters and so on, primarily using the old school program MS Paint to achieve his charmingly lo-fi works. All in all, it is his Scottish identity which continues to fuel his artist practice. Commissioned by Settlement Projects – the charity behind the high street premise – Alex was tasked with transforming the space into something that connected the local community creatively.
From May up until last month (when the whole building was demolished), the old charity shop’s walls hung Alex’s work in tacky snap frames while his vinyls looked out onto the high street. Painting a large mural across the shop’s walls, Alex abstracted imagery from the rest of the high street (peppered with the likes of Tesco, Greggs, Bank of Scotland and McDonald’s), playing on the collective identity of the Scottish high street.
“When I was commissioned to make the work,” the illustrator tells It’s Nice That, “I started thinking a lot about the typical Scottish high street. I noticed that every one appears to be the same, the same kind of shops, businesses and people walking down them (mainly troublesome teenagers known as ‘bams’ and the elderly), but other than that, each one is very different.” Though the streets may seem similar on the surface, each location has its own distinct history and traditions, and its own community spirit.
“I wanted to make work that highlights the subtle elements of the Scottish high street which can be distinguished from any other part of the UK,” says Alex. The work features some essential Scottish classics valued highly in contemporary culture and identity today. Square sausages, macaroni pie, Irn Bru, Buckfast and Greggs are all given Alex’s handy MS Paint treatment. He makes numerous witty puns referencing some of Scotland’s best-known names, a blue plaque commemorating the birthplace of Nicola Sturgeon’s childminder, a poster offering Ayrshire’s finest Burns supper of quality fish and chips and even… an album artwork of Peter Andre’s new album, set in and titled Iceland. Fantastic.
As a child, Alex remembers watching copious amounts of The Simpsons, drawing comical cartoons and therefore developing an astute sense of humour seen in his work today. Aiming to make his work as accessible as possible, through drawing, Alex’s ultimate objective was to connect with everyone and anyone that lives in Scotland while instilling the right amount of ambiguity to engage with individuals on a personal level.