THERE is a growing appetite for street art in Glasgow, as evidenced by the various murals emblazoned on walls and bridges around the city. Installations are now a regular fixture at cultural events, the most recent being this week’s Merchant City Festival.

But Glasgow is one of the only western European cities without a defined legal space for graffiti artists – and some of the city’s most active ‘taggers’ are calling for that to change.

Graffiti can be treated as vandalism in Scotland, with offenders facing fines or even imprisonment. However, since 2008 Glasgow City Council has commissioned several murals by renowned graffiti artists like Rogue-One and Smug.

While these murals are hailed for their photorealism, underground taggers are more likely to use complex ‘bubble’ or ‘widestyle’ patterns only decipherable to fellow artists to avoid police detection.

Unsurprisingly, many taggers who operate in the city do not want to be fully identified. One, who calls himself Chris, claims exhibitions and festivals are the only opportunities he has to hone his craft.

He said: “A legal space is long overdue. The city has commissioned a lot of street art in the last couple of decades, which has gone a long way to legitimising the image of graffiti in the city.

“A legal wall would be a great next step and serve as an olive branch to writers who have so far only been criminalised for their art. It’s not vandalism.

“Scratching your name onto a bus window with a coin is vandalism; planning a piece of art and executing it in an interesting place is graffiti.”

The debate around graffiti has raged for decades, with many artists arguing it is an essential element of hip hop culture.

Another active Glasgow artist, who tags simply as !MAN!, believes the line between graffiti and street art is becoming increasingly blurred.

He said: “There’s no denying there is a line, but at the moment you could spray paint a beautiful picture of a bird on an abandoned building and it’s illegal if you’ve not got permission.

“I think it’s dangerous that the two are separated. People see these beautiful Commonwealth Games murals and think ‘that isn’t graffiti’, but a lot of these guys got their name in the first place because of tagging illegally.

“The technology used to make these murals has evolved because of graffiti culture. Now you get photo-realistic art done with spray cans. I would directly correlate this with the culture the authorities want to slam and condemn.”

Although Glasgow has no legal graffiti walls, there are permitted spaces in multiple UK cities including Dundee, Leicester, Bristol and Edinburgh.

Mark Higginbottom, director at Spectrum Arts, who run an art supplies shop, was instrumental in launching the Edinburgh wall in 2012.

However, he said Edinburgh City Council was resistant to the idea and he had to negotiate with private land owners to get the project off the ground.

“The boards in question were regularly painted with graffiti and periodically cleaned by the land-owners over a number of years whilst the site was effectively a waste ground. We figured that this was a huge waste of money and resource for the company and it could be a good chance to bridge the gap between the two worlds.

“I believe a legal wall in Glasgow would be extremely popular, based on the success of those in Edinburgh. It is a larger city with a more substantial graffiti and street art community who are crying out for space to use.”

In May, dozens of hip hop heads congregated at SWG3 for Yardworks, Scotland’s first ever graffiti festival. Higginbottom said the success of such an event demonstrates legal initiatives can be successful.

“Glasgow would benefit greatly from having such a space - or indeed multiple spaces - open to its vast artist community, and the success of the recent Yardworks event is testament to this.

“It's impossible to predict the behaviour of every individual and I do not believe legal walls should be created solely to try and manage a perceived 'graffiti problem'. These spaces should also be provided to allow talent to flourish and nurture creatives who happen to use spray paint as a tool.”

As well as being considered vandalism, graffiti in Glasgow has long been associated with sectarianism and gang culture. The longest sentence handed out for graffiti vandalism is 28 months, although this was later quashed.

A spokesperson for Glasgow City Council said: “We do not see the benefit in the creation – in the city centre or anywhere else – of a graffiti wall or legal space for graffiti artists. There has been no dialogue on this subject in recent years.

“The City Centre Mural Trail has been a great success, with local and international interest and acclaim.”

The Five Faces at Broomielaw (Glasgow)

Sam Bates aka Smug has had a sensational journey as an artist. He has gone from tagging in a tiny Australian town to producing huge murals in Glasgow’s city centre. Some of his most popular works include a woodland-themed canvas on Ingram Street and his own interpretation of famous Van Gogh and Picasso paintings on Argyle Street. His photorealistic style is undeniably eye-catching, focusing on particular characters. The Fives Faces under the Caledonian Railway are arguably the most impressive of all, depicting tattoo artists from a local studio.

The Bird on High Street (Glasgow)

Another character piece by Smug, this High Street mural portrays Glasgow’s patron saint Mungo dressed in 21st century clothing. The legend goes that a young St Mungo tended to a red robin that was injured after being attacked by villagers with stones. Mungo prayed for the bird and it recovered and flew away. It is a beautiful piece with a profound meaning that somehow fits the street well. It not only adds a splash of colour but also somehow reflects the area. Mungo looks like he could easily be any passer-by.

The East Market Street Arches (Edinburgh)

This project is technically not only the work of one artist but 60, but there is an element of continuity to the works produced. Each archway contains a unique style or design: there are character pieces and stencils as well as more classic tagging styles. The project, which was initiated by the community arts partnership Work in Progress Edinburgh, was officially the largest street art project when it first begun. The finished product is a testament to the artistic talent lurking on the east coast.

The Lyon Street Wall (Dundee)

Street art is most fascinating when it offers a picture or comment of the urban area it represents. Although graffiti veteran Ian Tayac aka Paco is a Frenchman, he demonstrates a great understanding of Dundee by focusing on the city’s great industries in this Lyon Street piece. The print press is the most discernible element while the graphics are a tribute to the computer games trade. The sharp and jagged touches also reference wildstyle, a common style of graff that underground taggers often use as a way to avoid identification by police.

Paco’s Bird (Kirkcaldy)

Kirkcaldy to attention recently after a spate of stencilled pieces appeared in the town centre, leading to speculation that world famous guerrilla artist Banksy was living in the area. However, there are more dramatic pieces to be found, such as this multi-layered piece by Paco. Birds are popular subjects for street artists due to the potential for different colours. But Paco also mixes it up with a stylised tag underneath. It might not have the political significance of a Banksy, but it is certainly nicer to look at.

The Girl at Aberdeen Market (Aberdeen)

This dramatic photorealistic piece by German duo Herakut was commissioned this year for the Nuart Street Festival, which was supported by Aberdeen City Council. Nuart has taken place in Norway since 2001, but was introduced as a way of brightening up the Granite City. This mural has a lot going on: a girl balances a lighthouse on her hand alongside the words ‘because you are that light’ while a unicorn prances in the background. It is a touching, emotive piece produced by two of the most talented street artists in Europe.

M-City’s Industry (Aberdeen)

This piece was also commissioned for the Nuart Street Festival, but its stencilled style gives it far more of an underground feel. Produced by Polish artist M-City, who is well known for his huge, industrial-themed murals, this piece links together dozens of different neatly cut outlines to create a coherent design. It is a themed mural that explores the history of philanthropists Robert Gordon’s contributions to Aberdeen. Although it looks technically complicated, underground graffiti artists are known for interweaving various patterns within a short space of time.

Puppets (Glasgow)

Bobby McNamara aka Rogue One is one of the most prolific graffiti artists in Glasgow and his style is rooted in hip hop culture. His marionettes mural by Strathclyde University is the most obvious example of that. The two figures pose next to a beatbox and their attire pays tribute to 80s legends Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. The red brick wall also serves as the perfect background as it evokes New York, the home of hip hop culture.

The Clydeside Tiger (Glasgow)

Glasgow dominates this list as it is unsurprisingly the most active scene, not only underground but also in terms of street art commissions. Shawlands artist James Klinge, who used to tag as Klingatron, stencilled this roaring tiger on the Clyde Walkway after being approached by West End based art gallery Art Pistol. The minute details of the piece that make it particularly impressive are the result of three weeks of hard graft (or rather graff). Klinge has a thing for animals: he also unveiled the sleeping panda mural on Mitchell Lane.

The Clutha Mural (Glasgow)

Ejek and Rogue One are best recognised as graffiti artists in the hip hop tradition, but even those with no interest in the culture cannot deny this piece is awe-inspiring. The mural is painted on the famous Clutha pub, which was hit by tragedy in 2013 when ten people were killed in a helicopter crash. The wall bears the images of a mix of celebrities who played or appeared there, such as Spike Milligan, and some of Glasgow’s most admired sons and daughters, like Mary Barbour and Billy Connolly.