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Scottish street artist receives Papal recognition for depiction of fragile life

by Ros Mayfield

After decades selling his art on the streets of Edinburgh, a Scottish artist was left “speechless” after discovering his work had been rewarded by the Pope.

Michael McVeigh was presented with a special medal from Pope Francis, as a token of his appreciation, for his work depicting the fragility of life.

'Throwaway People' by Michael McVeigh

The drawing, entitled ‘Throwaway People’ caught the eye of Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  She bought a copy and said he was “very, very taken” by the artwork, which is an expression of the plight of those on the margins of society.  So much so that she presented a print of it to the Pope when she visited him in Rome earlier this month.

“I presented it to Pope Francis and explained the story behind it to him.

“He turned it over and wrote on the back in Italian and said ‘I don’t want to forget what you just said.’”

McVeigh, a modern-day folk artist has been selling his work on the streets of Edinburgh for more than 40 years.  He was invited to the Church of Scotland offices, to accept his present.  Rev Fulton told him:

“Throwaway People is your expression of the fragility of life and how easy it is to fall through the cracks and it is a print that I have bought myself.

“You have shared your gift with the Pope, it really resonated with him and in return he asked me to give you this Papal Medal as a token of his appreciation.”

McVeigh, 65, whose work has also been exhibited in the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, was visibly moved to receive the honour.

“When I heard that Pope Francis wanted to give me something to say thanks for the print, I thought it was probably going to be a card with a quote from the Bible and a picture but I never expected a medal.

“What an incredible moment, it is so beautiful and I am going to keep it forever and ever and I will probably show it to everyone I meet.

McVeigh said it was difficult to explain what inspires him to produce his artwork.

“I never think about what I am drawing, I just do it although sometimes people give you ideas but maybe it is an outside force that speaks to me,” he mused.

“’Throwaway People’ is my expression of those who never realise their potential in life and end up on the scrap heap through addiction and homelessness.

“I hope it will help remind Pope Francis not to forget people on the margins of society and continue to provide them with a bit of hope.”

McVeigh grew up in Dundee but left school without any qualifications, eventually earning a place at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, after one of the tutors recognised his natural talent.

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