Graffiti rains supreme at Upfest Bristol

4 Jun

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This week, they’ve all been talking about the Queen in Bedminster. But not Elizabeth; it’s Mary Portas, Queen of Shops, and her promise to help revitalise the tatty post-war shopping centre who has got people excited.

But whatever Queen Mary brings to the party, I wonder if it will do as much to enliven the area, or to bring as many people to South Bristol, as Upfest, Europe’s biggest street art festival, where the streets were alive with the smell of spray paint yesterday.

There was a gaggle (?) of graffiti artists from all over the world of all ages, shapes and sizes spraying walls, boards, shop fronts, beer gardens, beards (saw a pink one) and of course a New York subway train.

Typical Bristol. Driving in via Bath Road there was no sign of Jubileeness. And though it must have been tempting for the powers that be to slap a Jubilee sticker on the event, graffiti art is not known for its affinity with tradition and respect for the establisment. But the monarch was present – just a bit, well, punk.

My day started with a hangover, a pair of dark glasses, a Tobacco Factory (converted bar / theatre etc) bean stew, meeting up with friends sitting under a mirror which told me ‘U R SO PORNO BABY’. Thanks. Chronicler Pete meet a friend he’d hooked up with again after twenty years, via the power of Facebook.

You can see why the Tobacco Factory got involved with Upfest. The edgy suburbanness of the art fits with the Victorian brickwork and exposed pipes. Inside the venue were smaller canvass pieces on the bar walls and upstairs was a room of murals where random kids and grown ups were scribbling.

Dodging the raindrops we checked out the art. Round the back of the Tobacco Factory was a whole bunch of boards from writing to blue dragons, Roy Lichenstein-referencing pop art to convict worms, angry green heads to pretty girls. Snapped a few artists at work, like James and Irek.

After another extended rain break we headed to The Hen and Chicken, where we had our first sight of the Queen. Holding aloft a gold spray can, she blinged up the side of that NY tube. Only now am I thinking – how the hell did they get that there?!? After a quick bit of research it turns out the tube was made by Upfest, funded by the Arts Council, bless ’em.

The beer garden and archway of the pub had sari-ed girls (N4T4), and a Manga pastoral scene zapped by a lazer beam-eyed monster. I was concerned for SPZERO76, Loch Ness, Moose&Yeti and Squirl working in the archway – so much spray and no masks. They’ll regret that later. I know: hello mum, goodbye punk. SPZER076, or Keith as his mum would call him (but not me, I’m back to being punk), handed me some freshly launched Ragstarz Fitness Freakz trading cards. His was the artwork.

One of the great things about Upfest is walking down the street and stumbling across art. Down alleyways. On the back of street signs. Loads on shop hoardings (which I’m told are there anyway) telling me ‘serious artists don’t paint elephants’ – daubed next to a red elephant. Much better than plain old metal. I’m all for ‘if you can’t beat em, join em’ when it makes the place look this alive.

A good friend used to live in the location for the heart of the action of Upfest 2012. The only things I liked about Bedminster back then was the (new) Tobacco Factory and the Greasy Spoon (still there, great hangover food). Gala Bingo was still a place where people called house. The Comedy Box at The Hen and Chicken wasn’t around. Nothing like Upfest happened.

North St Green was the patch of grass at the bottom of my friend’s former road where dogs went to wee. This weekend it was home to subversive art, a paint dribbled van and, randomly in a lovely way, a vintage tea tent. A few royal visits here – a pink skull Liz II, red stampesque ‘super saver the queen’, and Boy George. Plus the heir, the future Charles III, brilliantly captioned ‘Laugh now, but one day I’ll be in charge’. A homage to Banksy (or was it Banksy?), ‘Old Master’, with the come on: ‘I want you to deface me’.

After cowering from the next downpour in the Spotted Cow’s smoking shelter two things struck me : the pubs were so packed they were honking; and modern day tagging (for the legit artists at least) ends in .com or .blogspot, etc.

Rain set in for the day, we finished up with drive-by photos. And then wondered if the skate park was part of the festival or did it always look like that?

Turned out we missed a bunch but thankfully all the ones on the sides of buildings – we’ll be back.

Check out the Instagrams on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FestivalChronicle

Full photos (over 50!) at http://www.flickr.com/groups/festivalchronicle/pool/

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