V&A Dundee

Open/Close Dundee: Beginnings

Adding colour and style to our streets and winding alleyways, Open/Close Dundee has provided vibrancy, drama and a reason to explore some of the less-visited areas of the city. Russell, the person behind the project, tells us how it all started.

Written by: Russell Pepper

I’ve always loved street art, but it was a visit to Aalborg in Denmark that kick-started the idea for Open/Close. I went on an amazing mural trail there that took me all over the city, leading me to explore areas I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. The creators of the trail say it’s meant to be like a treasure hunt, and that murals are in hidden areas which will surprise you. I really liked that.

Aalborg is comparable in size to Dundee and is easily walkable so I thought something similar could work here. I initially wanted to do gable ends all over Dundee, which would have been very ambitious to start things off. I’ve since learned that large murals are very tricky and time- consuming to organise. It was at Fleet Collective - a creative co-working space where I rented a desk - that things got started. I chatted to Katie Guthrie there (a street artist and designer who goes by the name KMG) who advised me to scale down a bit and start off with doors, much like the Aberdeen Painted Doors project.

Photo of a door painted with a mural of magpies on a chimney.
Photo of a door with a yellow geometric mural painted on it.
Photo of a door with a mural of a hand holding snakes painted on it.
Photo of a door with an illustrated farm scene.
  • Door at the Boomerang Centre by Keir Murdoch.

  • Door at Victoria Bridge Arches by Steph Liddle.

  • Door at Victoria Bridge Arches by Zoe Gibson.

  • Door at the Boomerang Centre by James Gemmill.

Doors are far easier to get permission and funding for and are a small-scale way to test the public reaction to street art. Ryan McLeod (now at Agency of None) directed me to Annie Marrs at Place Partnership, who was able to fund an initial pilot of six doors. And off we went.

The project has been amazing so far. I still can’t believe how easy it is to get permission for painting doors! 99% of people we’ve asked to paint their doors have said yes without even seeing the artwork. The council have been supportive of this too and made the process very easy for us.

Artists who would love to have some street art up in town can literally ask shop owners, managers, and so on if they can paint their fire escape and I can almost guarantee they’d get a yes.

Two doors on a cobbled street, both painted with murals. The one on the left is larger and features a face made up of many wee creatures. The one on the right is a geometric 3D shape.
A shuttered door on a street in Dundee painted with black and white cats.
Colourful painted shutter in an industrial area.
Painted shutters in purple and reds and yellows of abstract shapes.
  • Doors on Sugarhouse Wynd by THING THING (left) and Tytus Skafander (right).

  • Door on Dura Street by Jen Collins.

  • Door adjacent to New Inn Entry by El Rughi.

  • A piece next to the Paper Shop on Albert Street by BUA.

Getting a large mural organised is an entirely different kettle of fish, though. It has taken nearly two years of work to organise a mural in Cardean Street in Stobswell, which has only recently been finished. There are so many different factors involved and many hoops to go through: permissions, consultations, multiple owners, budget, legal issues, etc. Every one of them is a potential breakpoint that could mean the mural can’t happen. It’s exhausting but worth it.

I’m really proud of this project. Nothing beats watching a new piece of art take shape and then seeing the public reaction to it. I feel that we’re creating something people here can relate to and love seeing in their day-to-day lives; it’s very satisfying and I’m glad it’s been so well received.

The reaction has been amazing and a testament to how much people in Dundee love street art. The project has snowballed beyond anything I thought I could achieve. By the end of summer 2020, all going to plan, we will have 40 painted doors, 18 painted Eurobins, two gable-end murals and a large wall mural. I can hardly believe it!

A door in an alcove, painted with a mural of people waiting in a queue. Two pedestrians walk past, looking at it.
A colourful, abstract painted shutter seen through out of focus flowers in the foreground.
View down a cobbled alleyway with a blue and white abstract mural painted on the wall.
A large shutter painted in red with multicoloured spikes painted up it. A lady and two toddlers amble in front of it.
  • Piece at Dens Road Market by Monty Nero.

  • Piece behind the DCA by Sofia Sita.

  • Piece on Commercial Street by Isla Valentine Wade.

  • Piece by Dens Road Market by Joanna Craig.

We’re getting closer to the long-term goal for Open/Close: a city-wide mural trail which connects communities with each other, places of work, the city centre and places of cultural interest in Dundee. Ideally, they would be linked by a walking and cycling network so people can easily and safely access all of these areas by active travel, allowing them to discover all that Dundee has to offer whilst reducing emissions and becoming healthier.

This would be fantastic for residents and for tourists. Just imagine being able to arrive in Dundee, picking up one of the soon-to-arrive e-bikes and nipping around to discover the whole city brought to life through street art.

The settings in which the artworks sit add so much and Dundee is such a great city for this. For example, the combination of pieces by Monty Nero and Joanna Craig on the old Dens Road Market look amazing together with the old signage of the market and chimney stack behind. It’s in such a prominent position on Den’s Road so loads of folk see it. I want to see more of that all across the city.

In our next article, find out the process behind how the many painted doors came to be beautifully decorated across Dundee. You can read it here.

Photography by Kathryn Rattray.