Graffiti artists aim high at multi-storey See No Evil festival, Bristol

21 Aug

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Bristol’s Nelson Street is, without a doubt, the arse-end of the city’s historic centre. The once-elegant Georgian thoroughfare, named after Admiral Lord Nelson (Bristol has a great seafaring heritage), was destroyed by German bombs during the Bristol Blitz and, like much of the city centre, was rebuilt in concrete in the 1950s and 60s.

But unlike its neighbouring districts – the redeveloped harbourside, the mercantile Old City, the modern cathedral to retail therapy that is Cabot’s Circus – Nelson Street has yet to benefit from the merciful release of the wrecker’s ball.

Of all the architectural forms to be found in Bristol, the brutalist municipal buildings and car parks of the postwar Age of Austerity are the most reviled. Just the spot for an international arts festival, then.

In the case of See No Evil, of course, Nelson Street really is just the place. Europe’s largest graffiti art festival – now in its second year – saw around 50 internationally renowned street artists descend on Bristol to inject splash of colour on the honeycomb of grey concrete with 3,500 spray cans and 700 litre of paint.

Over the week leading up to the grand finale – a lively New York style block party – on Saturday, August 18 the crème de la crème of international urban artists, including the American Mark Bode (son of the legendary cartoonist Vaughn Bodé), the Austrian Nychos, Pixel Pancho from Italy, and Belgium’s ROA, rubbed shoulders with equally-renowned locals including Cheo, Soker and the festival’s curator Inkie, a contemporary Bristol’s most famous recent export, Banksy.

It’s safe to say Banksy has changed the way that Bristol’s civic leaders think about graffiti art. It wasn’t too long ago that Banksy’s famous stencil pieces were being painted over by council workmen. It took a while for the city’s leading citizens to realise they were destroying priceless works of art (okay, you can put a price on an original Banksy, but its artistic value is surely multiplied when it is in a public place for all to enjoy).

Now – and especially following 2009’s Banksy vs Bristol Museum, which saw thousands of regular people from around the world flock to the exhibition, and the eyes of the international media turn to the city – the council has finally given a thumbs up to urban art, leaving only a few Tory councillors harrumphing into their Daily Telegraphs (a publication which, no doubt to the chagrin of those councillors, gave See No Evil a glowing review).

The festival, which was supported by the city council, the Arts Council and the London 2012 Festival, attracted an incredible 50,000 people. And, as you’d expect from artists of the calibre invited to participate, the work was of a highest quality… and not always what you’d expect from graffiti art.

Alongside colourful cartoon collages in the style popularised by the movie Wild Style way back in 1983, there was a fabulous black and white study of an urban fox by ROA (monochrome wild animals being his signature pieces), a four storey art deco-influenced painting by Birmingham’s Lucy McLauchlan, and Conor Harrington’s three storey painting of Georgian duellers, heavily influenced by the painters of the Romantic Movement.

It was all done, of course, with the say so of the property owners, including Bristol University and NCP car parks. This ‘approved art’, though, has one thing in common with its illegal sire: its transient nature means that next summer – assuming the festival is repeated – much of the work will be whitewashed in preparation for the Class of 2013 to make their mark.

  • Want to see more pictures from this event? Check out our Flickr stream (eyes right).

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