Upfest 2018 celebrates The Simpsons and women’s suffrage

30 Jul

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Upfest celebrated its 10th anniversary this weekend with arguably its biggest coup to date.

After teaming up with the Mr Men in 2016 and Morph in 2017, organisers this year announced a collaboration with The Simpsons, and their creator Matt Groening, who handpicked three artists / teams to bring America’s most dysfunctional (until The Trumps came along) family in their own style.

So it was fitting, in a festival that also sought to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, that some of those artists should be female.

Arguably the best spot of the festival – the side of the Tobacco Factory overlooking the glamour of Aldi’s car park – was handed over to Nomad Clan, AKA Cbloxx and AYLO from Manchester.

Their massive mural of Lisa Simpson melded with a photorealistic angry-looking short-haired girl with a loud speaker, and a plea for us all to Be More Lisa, replaced one of the best-loved pieces from last year: the harlequin John Lennon by Brazilian artist Kobra.

It’s fair to say that the Lennon mural was a festival favourite – not just of 2017 but of the entire history of the festival. Whoever replaced that mural would have big boots to fill, and Nomad Clan more than rose to the occasion (and we’re not just talking about the cherrypicker they used).

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based female artist Boa brought cartoon-within-a-cartoon stars Itchy and Scratchy to the wall of The Spotted Cow pub, and a trippy multiple Barts with robot bodies mural to Strada Cycles, while Bristolian Soker managed to work his spiky freestyle moniker into a Simpsons sofa scene at the Brewery Theatre.

And Berlin-based Argentinian artist Caro Pepe brought one of her trademark one-eyed women to the other side of the Brewery Theatre – one of the Women’s Voices walls.

There were, apparently, 400 artists working over the weekend. Local festival favourites Jody, Inkie, Cheo, Andy Council were all back, and the work produced was as varied as ever – from the fluffy to the frightening (yes, we’re looking at you Boswell), the chucklesome to the challenging.

Some works were compact enough to hang on your wall, others spilled off the big walls the occupied. Some were low – you’d only spot them if you were tying your chunky shoe laces – and others – like The London Police’s fabulous Lads characters at Royston Garden Mews – were so high you needed to crane your neck to see them.

Oh, and some were unfinished. Torrential rain made it, I guess, hard for the artists to work, while the strong winds may well have tested their nerves or even created a health and safety issue. Jody’s smaller gold lustre paintings popped up over the weekend, but a large mural at Exeter Road was still a work in progress by Sunday evening. Similarly, an Inkie mural featuring Brunel wielding a paint can, was little more than a sketch outline, although his Bristol Born and Bread collaboration with Cheba on the side of Parsons Bakery was looking good.

As always, I look forward to returning in a few weeks when the scaffolding is down, and the crowds have dissipated, to enjoy the finished pieces in all their glory.

For me, one of the best things about Upfest is that its expanded my understanding of what street art can be. Sure, the Wildstyle writing and cartoon illustrations that illustrated the Bristol walls of my youth are here, along with the Banksy-style stencils that excited us all at the turn of the millennium.

But the general rule seems to be if you can create great art, and that art translates to a wall, Upfest has a place for you. Here’s to the next 10 years.

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