By David Hennessy
Award winning artist Scottee is tackling ageism with a new project that aims to turn his 77-year-old granddad from Donegal, named Liam Gallagher, into a renowned artist. It is a project that has already been supported by Stephen Fry, fashion photographer Rankin and Sherrie Hewson of Loose Women. Now Scottee would love it if the former Oasis singer who shares his grandparent’s name would lend his support: “We’re just desperately trying to get Liam Gallagher to pay it some attention. As of yet, the other Liam Gallagher hasn’t come forward.”
Scottee is the first grandchild of his family and was bought up by his Irish Grandparents on a council estate in Camden. As a child he held grandad’s hand on long walks across Hampstead Heath and does the same thing now on short walks to the chemist to collect his Grandad’s tablets.
Scottee tells The Irish World that seeing older people disregarded by society moved him to create Liam Gallagher is my Grandad: “People have these stereotypes about what an older Irish man is: ‘He must be drunk, he must be crazy’. I realised I had to do something about this to make him the most visible, un-ignorable person and the only way I know how to do that is through art.”
Liam’s mother died giving birth to him meaning he was sold to the nearest farm and starved. He ran away from home and came to the UK in 1951 with no money and he was greeted with
signs that read: ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’: “I spent a lot of time growing up with my grandparents and so to hear their stories felt quite normal and it’s only when I tell other people my grandad’s stories that I realise it’s very much what happened to Irish men when they came to the UK, the level of racism that they received was astonishing and so I guess I’m interested in telling that story.
“We’re going to explore some very uncomfortable truths about what it was like for him being born in 1936. His mother died giving birth to him and there was no formal adoption service, he was just given to the nearest farm and then his father tried to buy him back but they wouldn’t allow that.
“He ran away to Scotland and then to England to work and faced racism because of where he was from and through that, we’ll talk about addiction. I think it’s a big thing in the Irish community, we don’t talk about this unspoken masculine addiction that is kind of inherent and why it’s there.”
Scottee’s grandfather was addicted to alcohol but has been sober for eight years now, something that has prolonged his life: “When you speak to him about why he was in the pub, it was the only place they got the news from back home, a lot o f them couldn’t read or write but they could go into the pub, talk to each other, find out what was going on back home and someone in the pub would be able to read them the newspaper and so it became their kind of community centre where they could be Irish men.
“What I hope this will do is highlight older people have got this level of optimism that I think is boundless. Despite all the animosity and rubbish he’s gone through, he has this real sense of optimism. If you ask him: ‘Weren’t you upset you were given away?’ And he says: ‘Well, someone had to rear me, someone had to bring me up’. “
Liam Gallagher has been many things in his time; a farmer, a miner, a laborer and a gardener but never an artist. Scottee hopes to challenge the clichés and cliques of the art world with his new project. Scottee says: “I also would like people not to think this project was so radical, people think this is such a radical idea: ‘You’re turning a 77-year-old man into an artist?’ That shouldn’t feel like a strange thing but because we’re a society that is obsessed with youth and youth culture that when you get past 50 in this country, you disappear and I want to address that. People don’t go away, their thoughts don’t just stop and they still have the same thoughts as us but they’re even more advanced because they’ve lived much longer in those thoughts and ideas.
Scottee is asking the public to commission his grandad to create a series of art works, performances and installations and needs to raise £5,800 to fund the creation of a sound tour in the UK, Ireland and USA. Talking on Monday June 2, Scottee and his grandfather were already ¼ of the way there with £1,445 already raised: “There’s this artist who launched a crowd funder at the same time as me who is making a book about trying to make ginger people sexy. He was asking for a similar amount of money and within the time period got up to £22,000. I’m trying to make a project with an older person about tackling ageism and I’m struggling to get 25% and I think it says something about what we as a general public think is important. When people want to donate to a crowdfunding thing, it’s stuff that is important to them and obviously ageism isn’t high enough on people’s lists which is interesting. I knew it was going to be a difficult task but this is why the project has to happen.”
Scottee has in the past worked with Spare Tyre Theatre Company, a company that works to empower communities without a voice, including the over 60s: “I’ve always encountered the same issues when working with older people: That they’re constantly ignored, people shout at them, people don’t talk to them because people think they’re crazy, they’ve got dementia. There’s a real stereotype around older people that if we used for gender or race, there would be uproar.”
In the 1990s, Scottee’s grandfather got many phone calls from people who mistook him for his more famous namesake but the 77-year-old now feels like a celebrity himself with the media attention the project is getting.
Scottee finishes by highlighting once more the real meaning: “Even if two people look at an older person differently on a bus, I feel the project has had an impact.”
For more information, you can go to: www.RealLiamGallagher.co.uk #RealLiamGallagher