Once you sight the Kelburn Castle, you’d be forgiven to think that castles have to be old, dreary stone buildings with grey and brown exteriors. The ideas of Patrick Boyle, the 10th and current Earl of Glasgow will completely change your perception.
Kelburn Castle was originally built in the 13th century and undergone remodeling in the 16th century. It’s perhaps the oldest castle in Scotland and it holds the record for inhabiting the same family for the longest time. In 1703, David Boyle, the then owner of the castle was among the commissioners who negotiated the Treaty of Union uniting Scotland and England into Great Britain. The castle has been home to a long line of Earls the family has produced since then.
In 2007, experts told Lord Glasgow that the castle’s concrete would soon need replacing to avoid further deterioration of the stonework. David and Alice asked their dad, the Earl of Glasgow, to paint the building into a colorful mural.
The job landed on four Brazilian graffiti artists Nunca, Nina Pandolfo, and twins Os Gemeos. Together, they designed a tropical imaginary world featuring large and vibrant monkeys, fish and huge fruits. A quick glance at the mural will tell you a lot about Brazilian graffiti tradition; vibrant, color-rich and energetic. Taken out of its urban context, it illuminates the Scottish countryside with formidable hues and shines through any rain-soaked distress the world can throw at it.
It was a groundbreaking artistic move that combined the transient, contemporary culture of street art with traditional, lifelong and rural nature of the castle, creating a lasting contradiction of visual beauty.
“It is a project of contrasts and collaboration that bridges between cultures, rural and urban realms and unites two proud and very different cultures”, explained the Kelburn estate.
The work was originally meant to be temporary following a three-year permit from Historic Scotland, a government agency responsible for preserving Scotland’s historic monuments. A report came out in September 2010 claiming the agency was piling pressure on Lord Glasgow to remove the graffiti, though it was later denied by both parties. Another 2011 report suggested that the Earl had written to Historic Scotland requesting permission to keep the graffiti as a permanent feature of the castle.
He said, “In the three years that the mural has been on the castle it has attracted enormous interest from around the world and it is loved by everyone who sees it…It has become a landmark and a talking point and it has given the castle and the estate a whole new character”.
The Earl fought a good fight, of course, he had to; he spent £20,000 for the work that featured a psychedelic series of interwoven cartoons representing a surreal urban culture.
A 2011 memo published by Historic Scotland stated that owners of listed properties should only use ‘historically correct colors in a manner which is appropriate to the building’. Historically indeed, yet many who have witnessed the breathtaking mural appreciate the artwork in contrast to the dull and monochrome part of the mansion.
The report continued, “Where more than one color is to be used, they should all relate to the architectural features of the whole building in a logical and consistent manner”.
The mural had quickly become an integral feature of Kelburn alongside a series of outdoor attractions and a country centre open to the public. These include a ginger bread house, a Chinese garden in a secluded forest and a stone grotto. The Kelburn Glen in particular with its deep gorges and waterfalls is one of Scotland’s most scenic woodlands and leads to stunning views across the Farm of Clyde islands.
For information, the mural was once mentioned as one of the top 10 world examples of street art by author and designer Tristan Manco, putting it on the same level with the Favela Morro Da Providencia in Rio de Janeiro and Banksy’s work in Los Angeles.
Historic Scotland eventually allowed some leeway for the artwork to live a few a more years. Unfortunately in 2012, another inspection suggested that the cement was again damaging the original walls of the castle and should be removed, according to BBC. There was a planned removal of the mural in the summer of 2015 but until date, there are no more updates from either the castle owners or from the media.
Sometimes people take time to start appreciating art, even the French first thought the Eiffel Tower was ugly yet today it’s their iconic structure. We hope Historic Scotland looked at things differently and let the work of the Brazilian street artists continue drawing millions to Kelburn.