- Old Gala House, Galashiels, Scottish Borders. 25 June - 1 October, 2022.
All photographs by Alan Dimmick.
Ally Wallace’s exhibition ‘Angularity’ at Old Gala House, Galashiels, includes drawings and watercolours made during his self-initiated residency at Gala Fairydean Rovers FC’s Netherdale Stadium, 2018-19, alongside more recent wall and plinth-based sculptures created in his studio in Glasgow. The residency was inspired by the now-celebrated cantilevered concrete stand at Netherdale designed by Borders-based architect Peter Womersley in the 1960s. In this interview Wallace discusses the residency, working across a variety of media and styles both on location and back in the studio, and how an interest in the ‘shapes, lines, and angles’ of Art Deco and Brutalist architecture has inspired his work. Interview by Stephen Palmer.
How did the residency at Gala Fairydean Rovers come about?
It had its roots in a visit to Galashiels during Doors Open Days in 2017. One of the buildings included in the festival was the stand at Netherdale Stadium, which I’d previously been unaware of. We got a tour of the stand and I was blown away – it’s such an incredible structure! I thought “I’ve got to come back and make work about this building”.
After months of mulling over how best to approach the club, I eventually Googled the telephone number and rang them – which turned out to be the number for the bar. I ended up having a chat with the folk at the club and explained that I’m an artist with an interest in architecture, and that I wanted to come and do some drawings of the stand because I find it really interesting. And that I’d also like to take some photos and do some filming. And they said “Yes”.
So, for the next twelve months, I started getting the train down there every few weeks to work on site. I didn’t really know it was going to be a residency, it just kind of turned into one.
So the idea of it being a residency came about afterwards?
I never approached the club and said “can I do a residency?” I just kept going every week or two to sketch and film. I started to chat to people while I was there. And the days mounted up. They gave me a little space in the building where I could keep my things. I felt like I was just able to use the building and wander about, make myself a cup of coffee, leave my things in the club bar. I thought “well this kind of feels like a residency even though nobody has called it that”. I felt like I’d embedded myself in the club. I’ve done a number of these ‘self-initiated’ residencies in other buildings, so it’s become a way of working for me.
How do the people involved with the club – the fans and the staff – feel about the stand?
The stand had fallen into a state of disrepair in recent years, so the majority of the fans that I spoke to were a bit fed up because the building had reached the point where it was becoming a problem for them. Whilst I was doing the residency, the stand had deteriorated to such an extent that the club had to make the decision to close it. I went to see a couple of games in the middle of the winter and everyone was standing out in the rain because they couldn’t use the stand. In 2021, the club received funding for a major restoration, so it’s great that work has now started to return the building to its former glory.
I spoke to one guy who was on the club’s board in the 1960s and had been a close friend of Peter Womersley. Back then, when the stand was built, the team was doing really well and the club wanted to upgrade the stadium. Womersley was appointed and people at the club were very excited to be working with this high flying modernist architect.
When it was first built, the stand would have looked very futuristic and must have created an interesting visual dynamic with its semi rural surroundings. But over the years, various bits have been added on or attached to it. The club later changed the ground floor of the building quite substantially. The stand used to appear to float, but they infilled and extended the bar underneath in brick. Peter Womersley would have been horrified.
He had cleverly included a line of windows between the main body of the stand and the cantilevered roof so it looked like the roof was hovering above the stand. But some years ago somebody had the bright idea of sticking adverts on the glass, completely destroying the effect. Just before they covered it in scaffolding, as part of the current restoration, the adverts were removed and I went down to see it and it looked amazing. You totally get it – what he’d done – this massive, concrete, pointy slab floating in the sky. So if they can manage to get it back to having that same feeling about it – this hovering structure – that will be great.
What attracts you to make work about particular buildings?
It’s to do with their sculptural forms – it’s because I think “that building is a brilliant shape”. That’s what attracted me to Fairydean. It’s just a big weird, blocky, sculptural shape.
In terms of the buildings I’ve worked with, they are either Art Deco or post Second World War, usually Brutalist, buildings. Art Deco is obviously different to Brutalism, but there’s something about the lines of both those styles of architecture, something about the shapes, the lines, the angles.
At the end of the residency you exhibited work in the boardroom surrounded by club memorabilia. How did the setting affect or resonate with the work?
Initially, I’d asked the club if I could show work in the stand, and they had agreed. But then the stand was closed. So one of the board members suggested showing work in the boardroom. I thought that was going to be really difficult because the boardroom is jam packed full of stuff – it’s basically the trophy room, full of club photographs, pennants and trophies. So every time I went down, I would sit in the boardroom for half an hour or pace around and think about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought “maybe this is good. It’s a very bizarre place to exhibit, but maybe it will make me do things in a different way”.
I didn’t want to interfere with the boardroom layout too much. The pennants, trophies and photographs are a reminder of why this is all here in the first place. It’s here because it’s a football club. It isn’t about architecture. It’s about football!
I put drawings up on easels and I made a mobile that represented the shapes and the angles of the building. They’ve got a big screen on the wall which they show football on and I exhibited a work called Fairydean Animation on that. I’d also made a short film with interviews with staff and board members which I showed on my own monitor. I put it on a table, slotted in amongst trophies and photographs and everyone came in and put the headphones on and watched it. One guy said he was really moved by it, almost brought to tears. I think it was because he thought it was sad that the building was crumbling away. That was an unexpected response.
The residency was a successful coming together of diverse elements. A Borders town with a really quite bizarre concrete building plonked on the edge of it with beautiful views of the Eildon Hills beyond; an artist travelling down from Glasgow to make work about the concrete stand; and then ending up showing it in the football club’s boardroom surrounded by all their stuff.
Alongside works that relate directly to the residency, your exhibition ‘Angularity’ at Old Gala House also includes more recent wall and plinth-mounted sculptures. Can you talk about how the sculptures came about?
In 2019, I was making work about a disused factory building during a residency at Merz in Sanquhar, Dumfries and Galloway. I’d begun folding and cutting sheets of A4 coloured paper to make wall sculptures based on the shape of the factory. I like A4 because it’s such a simple, pleasing format, a ubiquitous shape and form. It’s very work-a-day – almost like you don’t have to think about it. I exhibited three such pieces at Merz.
Then during the first Covid lockdown I was doing a lot more studio work because I wasn’t able to do any more residencies. I started making more of these A4 size paper sculptures.
The paper works are very fragile so I decided to experiment with making more durable, painted aluminium versions that would be easier to exhibit. They turned into a slightly different thing in that although they look like the paper originals, when you get up close to them they’ve got their own particular quality of paint and solid material.
The paper versions have ended up being two things. They are pieces of work in their own right, but they also function as maquettes for the aluminium pieces. I like their light weight, fragile, paperishness.
And with the aluminium pieces, I like the close-up, brushed, painterliness of them. I could have spray painted them, but I didn’t want to go down that route. The brush strokes and blemishes are a reminder that a person has made this by hand, and for me that makes it interesting and special.
The brutalist looking sculptures also came about because I had more time in the studio to experiment with shapes and materials during the Covid lockdowns. They make reference to architecture, but not to specific buildings. They are more like lumps of brutalist architecture that have distorted and dropped off of buildings.
Do you see everything you make as one work – a kind of total art work – or is there a hierarchy to your practice?
I think about it as all one thing. I like how these different ways of working – whether making observational drawings and watercolours on location, or making more abstract pieces in the studio – feed off each other.
When I’m working in the studio, I sometimes make direct reference to my observational drawings but also find that the work benefits from being completely freeform. I was in a show about Womersley at Zembla Gallery last year, and I was making sculptures specially for the show. I kept looking at pictures of the stand at Netherdale on my phone. And I thought “no, no, no… this is the wrong way to do this!” I’ve spent enough time around that building that I can feel it without having to look at it. I know what it feels like. So I thought “I’m going to try to make work that reflects that… the feeling, the presence of the building, without having to try to copy it”.
My current studio work is completely freeform. It works better like that, for the moment anyway. Sometimes if I try to make it look like something, it kills it. It’s better to be free flowing. I like going out and making work on site because lots of unexpected things happen. Then I come back to the studio and I feel more excited about the things that I’m making there.
What’s next? Have you got any buildings in mind for future residency projects?
I’ve recently started a project in Irvine, North Ayrshire, which was redeveloped into a new town in the 1960s. It’s a fascinating place. Since the redevelopment faltered in the mid 1970s, it’s turned into an unusual mixture of diverse architectural styles. There’s this monolithic shopping centre from the late ’60s, the exterior of which is a bit run down, near some new houses which have been done in a historical style and then there’s the beach. I’ve been making drawings in situ, as well as taking sculptures with me to photograph in various locations. So that’s all turning into something. There’s the Harbour Art Centre in Irvine that I may possibly approach to show the work, or it might be interesting to show the work in the shopping centre. I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but I’m confident it will develop into something interesting.
Watch Ally Wallace’s film made during his Netherdale residency:
Ally Wallace, ‘Angularity’, Old Gala House, Galashiels, 25 June – 1 October 2022. www.allywallace.co.uk/
Stephen Palmer is an artist based in London who makes paintings and drawings of A4 paper models that have been defaced through a series of actions. stephenpalmer.org.uk/