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Changing rooms

Pauline McLean | 17:41 UK time, Thursday, 30 July 2009

It's a Changing Rooms moment for James Holloway, the director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Probably the episode when a woman returns to find Carol Smillie and her team have thrown out her nice ikea lightshade and replaced it with half a tree and a length of fairy lights.

Only it's not his house but the ground floor of the 19th Century gallery which has been given a makeover by a number of street artists.

They've been invited in while the Edinburgh gallery is closed for a multi-million pound refurbishment.

I was last here in April when the last visitors were leaving and the place was neatly stacked with boxes.

Today's scene couldn't be further from that - the air is thick with spray paint, there's barely a piece of wall left unpainted.

The carpet has been ripped up, holes punched in the exhibition walls - the artists have clearly made this place their own.

Some are designers, others graffiti artists, among them the Highland duo Dufi - alias Al MacInnes and Fin Macrae - who're working on a giant Scottish Jesus.

As well as the giant stencilled face and hands they're working on today, they intend to add the single word answers they received from people around the country when asked what Jesus means in modern day Scotland.

And while that might ruffle a few feathers, will this exhibition? Has it legitimised graffiti art? Or made it a bit too safe?

"I think Banksy legitimised graffiti," said Fin. "We're just carrying on that tradition.

"It's not exactly edgy when you're sitting in a nice warm gallery, eating your sandwiches, instead of perched on a wall with your backpack full of spray paints, ready to run.

"But this has been great because you have time to work with other artists, to talk to them, to see what they're doing.

"Getting that time has been the most important thing."

The project was inspired by the 19th century mural in the gallery's entrance hall which depicts the great Scots of history.

Rough Cut Nation targets more everyday Scots, not Robert the Bruce but Robert Bruce, a heart patient. Elsewhere, there are huge images of a cancer patient, a priest, someone's grandfather.

And, while it may seem chaotic, curator Richie Cumming says it has rules like any other artform.

"If other artists don't like the work, they'll paint over it, add their own work," he said.

"It's quite an interactive process and will make it much more interesting. And I don't think it will stop when they public come in."

As to James Holloway, once he got over his Changing Rooms moment, he admits it could be just the boost the portrait gallery needs.

"We don't want to lose our regular visitors - and while they might be as surprised as me - it's quite a fantastic use of the space and if we can bring street artists in, and their friends and widen our audience, it will have been a really important project."

Rough Cut Nation is at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery from August 7th as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Art. Check their website for details of live music and other gallery events.


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