THE children of St Anne’s Primary are on the march. Some are down by the harbour in Aberdeen, some crossing the river in their hometown of Glasgow, and others posing with wild animals in Southampton. One has a fish under his arm, another is playing with a set of scales. Each one of them is heading in the same direction – down past Boots, round by Starbucks and on through to the departure gates.

“My impression is that airports are potentially the most amazing art gallery,” says artist Gerard M. Burns, the man who has just dropped the kids from P4 off at Glasgow Airport.

“Think of the millions of people who pass through them and more often than not, there’s nothing. It’s maybe quite brave to put up something like this, but I think you have to give people what they need in order to enjoy what you’ve created.”

The National: Celebrated Scottish artist Gerard M BurnsCelebrated Scottish artist Gerard M Burns (Image: Gerard Burns)

What Gerard Burns has created is a stunning triptych of three cities, each on the waterfront, the departure point in the journey to new horizons for all time, or at least until the first Glasgow fair fortnight in Benidorm.

“I’ve been looking everywhere I go. Some airports get it, I think. Seville has just extended their airport, doing really simple things like extending up with things to draw the eye.”

Burns is doing his best to change that. Having been commissioned by AGS Airports, owners of all three airports, the kids of St Anne’s will now accompany travellers on their departure from Glasgow to their onward destination.

“The brief was we to create an artwork that allows us to tell a new story about ourselves and our purpose,” he says. “They’ve undergone a major soul-searching exercise, asking everyone in the organisation what they did, what their purpose was, what they do. What came back was that people come to their work not to make profits for shareholders, they come to serve the community and to get people away on their holidays. They said they wanted an artwork to tell that story.”

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And so One World Our World. Taken together, the work collectively expresses something about multiculturalism, movement of people and the hope that travel brings. There’s fun, too. The old traditions of each town’s coat of arms have been pulled apart and scattered throughout.

Some might say a better place to hang the works might have been in the post-Brexit passport control hall, although perhaps in that context, images of plurality, inclusivity and deconstruction of old tradition might have felt a little too on-the-nose.

“I figured if they want something that makes people think about people rather than airplanes and runways then I’m going to create something that features children.  I felt if they got it right and really used it properly, then when people start thinking about the airport, they’ll see one of these wee faces.”

The wee faces were drawn from Glasgow’s east end, and a school the artist has long admired, having first encountered them as part of his work with the Celtic Charity Foundation.

In some ways, St Anne’s Primary is a microcosm of the make-up of modern Scottish society.

“It’s a remarkable place,” he says. “They receive immigrants and refugees and these kids are basically brought to the school not able to speak English. The staff are just expected to absorb this complex mix of cultures and they do. It’s an amazing community.”

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The kids were given a non-uniform day for their day with the artist, who first photographed them before recreating their likeness on canvas in his trademark photo-realistic style. His celebrity portraiture is the work that often draws the international spotlight to Burns, but there’s an awful lot else besides. When The Herald visits his home in the Lanarkshire countryside, where he works from a studio in the back garden, we’re given a peek at some of his other works…and it’s very far from a showbiz hall of fame.

“I photographed ever kid in the school: about 2000 photographs. I was exhausted at the end of it, the camera was red-hot. It’s a day they’ll hopefully always remember.”

Burns tells me a little about his technique, explaining how he follows the Old Masters, who projected elements using lenses, which they’d then draw around. In a similar way, he projects his images on to the canvas and then applies paint.

“David Hockney’s book Hidden Magic talks about it,” he said. “As soon as Galileo comes onto the scene, everyone got good at drawing.”

None of that matters to the kids of St Anne’s, of course. On the day of the unveiling at Glasgow Airport, The Herald visited to see them perform before an audience of invited guests including local MP Mhairi Black.

Burns composed a song about Glasgow, a modern lullabye borrowing the title of Michael Marras’ Mother Glasgow, performing it with the children.

Deputy head teacher Mhairi Hamilton said: “They’ve loved learning the song  and it’s helped them explore a bit more about what Glasgow means, and the fact that they all belong there.”

Whether travellers will have an eye for the finer detail as they scurry between duty free and their first holiday pint remains to be seen, but the detail is there to reward them when they do. There’s city-specific graffiti in Glasgow, and Aberdeen.

“Mungo was here” is daubed on one wall by the Clyde, whereas up the North East coast the vandalism reads “stand free”, adopted as a motto by followers of the city’s football team.

“I would say 90% of people might be aware of it as they go past, 50% might actually pause to have a look, 20% might take a real good interest in it,” says Burns, who hopes to install QR codes alongside the paintings detailing their story and answering questions about why there are leopards and lions sitting with P4 (the clue lies in the “ancient heraldic symbols” in each city’s coat of arms, contemporised by Burns; ditto that wee Glasgow boy with the belly-up salmon under his arm).

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“The unveiling itself was a mixture of emotions,” says Burns once his work was revealed. “I actually got more pleasure watching them than the unveiling itself. But I almost can’t ‘see’ it at the moment.

“I think there’ll be a day when I’m walking through the airport and it’ll feel like I’m seeing it for the first time.”

See One World, Our World at Glasgow Airport departures. For more information on Gerard M Burns visit