The Glasgowist: Sign of the Times

·4-min read
The Glasgowist:  Sign of the Times
The Glasgowist: Sign of the Times

Ciarán Glöbel is an artist and graphic designer defining the visual identity of many of Glasgow's most popular independent food places. He uses traditional sign-writing tools and techniques to produce striking, hand-painted works that have become distinctive features in neighbourhoods across the city, continuing a long-standing creative crossover between people involved in Glasgow's art, food and music scenes.

Part of this determination to be different came from street food pop-ups and markets. A hospitality setting is often where collaboration would begin. He told me: "I worked at Argyle St Arches when it became Platform and I recognised a lot of the people I met there. They were ex-art students or they used to be in a band and then they will know other folk and there’s this DIY ethos that runs through music, art and the hospitality world in terms of getting things done and making connections.

Glasgow Times: Source: Newsquest
Glasgow Times: Source: Newsquest

Source: Newsquest

"Just about every artist I can think of in Glasgow has also worked in bars. Sometimes that’s where they will find the people to start a project. I think being able to find folk to work with makes you realise that we're pretty good at doing our own thing and going our own way in Glasgow. We don't need to chase the tail of other bigger cities. Why should we? All you need to do is look at a list of artists or bands that this city has produced and that's your answer."

This pronouncement turned out to be prophetic as his latest commission began with a conversation with the Clancy family that owns his local, The Laurieston. Ciaran has created a series of throwback advertising signs, turning the stone wall above the pub into a quirky new landmark.

"There had been some graffiti appearing on the stonework when the scaffolding had been put beside the railway track. Because the stone was so old, the easiest solution was to paint over it. The first one was a sign for Universal Covers as that the business that used to be there back in the black and white times, it was a company that made waterproofs for your horse and cart."

Glasgow Times: Source: Newsquest
Glasgow Times: Source: Newsquest

Source: Newsquest

He calls the artwork throwback signs because they are not strictly ghost signs - the term for the faded imprints from businesses of the past that are often preserved or uncovered. They are modern variations on that theme.

When the first sign was complete, they continued to crowd-source ideas around the pub and settled on a triptych of designs, with a retro sign for the Glasgow District Subway now on one side and a homage to The Laurieston's famous pie cabinet to complete the set.

Glasgow Times: Source: Newsquest
Glasgow Times: Source: Newsquest

Source: Newsquest

Ciaran says much of his work lies with independent restaurants and cafes in the city. He feels connected to their success and hopes the signs help kickstart new businesses to attract attention. He works with artist Conzo Throb on larger-scale mural projects, including sign-writing Dennistoun on the side of Redmond's Pub and an installation of Govanhill lettering that represented the cultures in the neighbourhood.

The Glöbel food and drink map of Glasgow signs include Lily Bakes Cakes in Partick, Rafa's Diner on the Hidden Lane in Finnieston, Sacred Tums on Victoria Road, Good Times Roll in Govan, Tennent's Brewery, The Bon Accord, Julie's Kopitiam and Phillies Bar.

Glasgow Times: Source: Newsquest
Glasgow Times: Source: Newsquest

Source: Newsquest

Ciaran attempts to project the personality of a location as much as making the signs attractive. "Sacred Tums and Rafas, to use two taco places as an example. It was the owners that had a vision of what they wanted the food to be and trusted me to come up with an aesthetic that matched it. I don't take it for granted that you have that level of input to what people see when they visit these places. I get to look at the menus upfront and if the place goes on to being a success, then you can take an element of pride in what they achieve."

Street art is increasingly becoming a part of the urban realm all around us. Large-scale murals are the most obvious examples but the resurgence of interest in sign-writing, attempts to create an identity for local streets and add a colourful aspect to neighbourhood identity is one of the city's strengths. Let's continue to build, shape and create things in the Glasgow style.