Is Bristol the street-art capital of the world?
Bristol is my home town so forgive me if I’m biased, but if you’re a connoisseur of street-art, you’ll find rich pickings in Bristol. Bombed in the war, Bristol has its fair share of gritty urban architecture, some unremarkable grey office blocks just waiting to be brightened up and some down at heel neighbourhoods that are happy hunting grounds for street art. I walk around these places every day on my way to work so let me take you on a personal tour of the street-art of Bristol.
Bristol’s Banksy Heritage
It’s practically impossible to mention street art in Bristol without Banksy coming up in conversation. It’s a good few years since Banksy and his Bristol street art contemporaries were out and about in Bristol putting up murals which the Bristol City Council was just as quick to clean up and paint over . These days a council lucky enough to find a Banksy popping up on its streets is more likely to cover it over with Plexiglass to avoid anyone vandalising it. In 2009 Bristol’s favourite street artist held a free Banksy art exhibition in the Bristol City Museum and the queues to get in snaked around the block, as fans flew in from all over the world, to take the rare opportunity of seeing fresh work from Banksy. These days there aren’t too many Banksy murals left in Bristol, so take the opportunity while you can to see an early Banksy – The Mild Mild West above The Canteen in Hamilton House on Stokes Croft (always crowded for the affordable food and live music). There’s also the naked man hanging from the window towards the bottom of Park Street, but the Police Marksman on Park Row has unfortunately been painted over with a mural of the Queen.
The Nelson Street project – See No evil
Once you’ve sought out the naked man on Park Street, then it’s a short walk from there down the hill to Nelson Street where the latest street-art project has been intent on brightening a dull back street in the Bristol city centre, filled with 1960s concrete buildings. In August 2011 top street artists from around the world converged on Nelson Street and over a weekend it was transformed into a colourful outdoor art gallery. I highly recommend a walk along Nelson Street with your camera, taking the time to look up and down, climb steps and walkways to see the artwork in all directions. Watch the See no Evil video here.
The See No Evil project will continue in August 2012 when a similar weekend event of street art and music is planned – for more information, visit the See No Evil website. It says a lot about how far Bristol Street Art has come that the project now has funding from the Art’s Council.
Stokes Croft – Bristol’s street art heartland
Stokes Croft is the neighbourhood that I walk through on my way to work everyday and is the heartland of Bristol’s street-art scene. If you walk up from the roundabout near Cabot Circus and Debenhams, keep your eyes peeled to look down side streets and up above the shop fronts to see street art that is often themed for the shop or music venue it is decorating. This is an area that is somewhat down at heel and you may see the residents of various nearby homeless projects congregating in doorways with a can of Special Brew in hand although they’re all pretty harmless. In the last year or two the community has been at odds with the Bristol City Council in their efforts to keep the area full of individual artists and businesses rather than being homogenised with mainstream shops and offices. It seems to have worked and there are a number of great, inexpensive cafes on Stokes Croft as well as a few design shops springing up.
The art on Stokes Croft is ever changing depending on what builder’s hoardings are up but I recommend that you walk up at least as far as Jamaica Street where you’ll see ahead of you the Jamaica Street Artist’s Collective, which has an open day each summer that is well worth visiting. Turn left here and you’ll find a small shop gallery of the PRSC or People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. This group co-ordinates much of the street-art and other cultural events on Stokes Croft and you can find art, postcards and souvenirs on sale in the shop, and perhaps have a chat about latest street-art projects in the area.
The Bear-Pit – Bristol’s latest street-art project
At the city end of Stokes Croft under that big roundabout is an underpass called the Bearpit that is also being targeted for a bit of street-art regeneration. Previously a grey tarmac area, where you might pass through but not want to linger, the area is now being brightened up with street art and food vendors are moving in to make it a more social space in the city centre. Walk through and you’ll see murals in all the passageways as well as a shop near the bus station selling all the supplies that a budding street-artist could need.
Now the tide has turned and street-art in Bristol seems to be part of the regeneration agenda for the city, look out for more street-art happenings here, and come visit Bristol yourself to take a look at some of the best street-art in the world.
More things to see in Bristol
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