Edinburgh’s answer to Michelangelo shows off decade of work in Leith

Painter Chris Rutterford. PICTURE; Steven Scott Taylor / J P License
Painter Chris Rutterford. PICTURE; Steven Scott Taylor / J P License
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THE Battle of Bannockburn, Edinburgh’s traditional Hogmanay gathering at the Tron, Burns’ poem Tam o’ Shanter and the public hanging of Maggie Dickson in the Grassmarket have all been brought to life in a new exhibition at Leith’s Custom House.

Renowned mural artist Chris Rutterford is staging a ten-year retrospective featuring some of his favourite works. A massive chunk of Bannockburn appears on the roof of the Custom House, lit up at night, and the large-scale execution scene fronts onto the main road, with more massive paintings inside.

Mr Rutterford, who often photographs willing volunteers before painting them into his historical scenes, has produced a sequence of high-profile murals on a greatest hits of distinctive Scottish topics.

They include his atmospheric “immersive” 20 metre long Tam o’Shanter, the depiction of the classic Edinburgh Hogmanay with around 3000 real portraits celebrating en masse, and his huge recreation of Bannockburn from inside the heart of the schiltron.

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The high ceilings, grandeur and layout of the Custom House allows all the murals to be shown to advantage. The Hogmanay scene is displayed in the round space which used to be the building’s safe room.

He said: “These pictures were always meant to be shown together. It’s a distillation of the Scottish spirit writ large in some of our best yarns.

“I don’t think most people know that my pictures are all by the same person, my murals are all round the town and often with very different moods. This is an opportunity for a catch-up.

“I often paint on panels so my murals pop up and down, it means they are versatile and it allows me to focus on the detail, but it also means they don’t always have a constant street side presence the way a gable end mural would have.

“It has let me raise a small army of paintings here though – I feel a real obligation to all the people who’ve participated to get their portraits on display as much as I can. So it feels great to give them an airing.

“The church used to commission this kind of artwork – especially designed to be awe inspiring. This is art as you think it should be – but without the religious narrative.

“Michelangelo has been dead for centuries. As I see it he’s the definition of a static target. Someone has to take him on.”

Mr Rutterford grew up in Edinburgh and studied in Carlisle and Leeds before becoming a magazine illustrator for seven years.

He worked in London for a while, but then decided to move back to Edinburgh.

The Custom House, which dates back to 1810, originally oversaw the payment of duty for importing and exporting goods through the Port of Leith but lay empty for years before being converted into new spaces for arts and culture.

Mr Rutterford moved his studio there last year.

The show runs until September 29 and is open till 6pm daily.

Mr Rutterford will be on hand to tell people about the history behind the paintings and explain how they were made.

He said: ‘Visitors have been genuinely surprised at both the art and the stories.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com