Researching AUM - Andrew Hairstans creates sociological art

Mr. Andrew Hairstans and a piece from his "A Model for Asylum" series 

As an Auburn University at Montgomery associate professor of Drawing and Painting, Andrew Hairstans’ artwork involves more than merely slapping paint across a canvass.

The Scottish native came to Auburn Montgomery in 2006 and creates layered imagery dealing with sociological concerns such as urban environments. His ongoing project, “A Model for Asylum,” has received national and international attention.

“The work adopts a postmodern aesthetic due to the splicing together of medium, imagery, and text,” explained Hairstans.

The exhibit has been displayed around the country and focuses on a former Glasgow public housing complex consisting of eight high-rise buildings constructed in the 1960s called Red Road Flats. Designed to accommodate almost 5,000 residents – and eventually housing a large number of global political asylum seekers – the complex was ultimately condemned and completely demolished by 2015.

“In 2013, I was fortunate to visit and document the interior and exterior of the buildings numerous times during a summer research project before phased demolition,” said Hairstans. “I have also completed library research in Glasgow and have copies of the original plans from archives through permission of the architect’s family.”

Building on those original architectural designs, Hairstans adds images and drawings from the on-site location to create the multi-media collage.

“The borrowed, layered, and fused form of the works reflects the splicing together of a socio-political landscape within A Model for Asylum,” he said. “My intention through my art was to bring attention to the plight of poorer people and specifically asylum seekers inhabiting public housing complexes such as the Red Road towers.”

Hairstans' work has been incorporated into other large exhibitions including “Another Country,” held at Saint John’s University, Minn., this past spring, which brought together twelve artists from distinct, ethnically, and culturally diverse backgrounds.

“All were born or currently living in Scotland,” he said. “It assessed the historical and, at times, negative impact of Scottish colonialism on the United States while at the same time tackling issues with contemporary migration, a complex subject with rapidly growing relevance in the current political climate. The work presented is personal as most of the artists are migrants themselves.”

Hairstans’ artistic concepts can also be applied to American housing projects.

“There is a lot of horrific public housing in the U.S. such as complexes in Chicago, New York, Baltimore and St. Louis,” said Hairstans. “I am also interested in this and my working method would capture the conditions of these housing projects easily.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery (aum.edu) and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 700 newspapers and magazines (getnickt.com).