We take you on a colorful tour of the capital of Urban Art Bristol. We were able to see some of Banksy’s early works and much more.
A long-awaited day of the trip has arrived: discovering Banksy’s Street Art in Bristol and many more artists who have left their mark. For approximately an hour and a half, we would be touring the streets of the city. Contemplating different works seasoned with the anecdotes of Rob from Where the Wall.
Street Art Tour in Bristol
- Why is Bristol such an important city in the world of graffiti?
- The fragility of Street Art
- The letters painted on the walls: the line between art or nonsense
- Street Art as a profession
- The Stokes Croft China
- Going around the bans
- The huge buildings
- A sullied Banksy: Well Hung Lover
- But there are still more Banksy works in Bristol
Street Art Tour in Bristol
The tour can be booked here, it costs £15 per adult (student discount available).
We started walking through the streets of Bristol, together with Rob, to see the “open sky works” that can be admired almost everywhere in the city. In that, I asked him the obligatory question:
Why is Bristol such an important city in the world of graffiti?
It all started when Robert Del Naja, better known as 3D, had the concern to get to know the urban art that was already being done in the United States at the beginning of the 80s. Returning to his native Bristol, he became the first street art artist in the city. Similarly, he was a pioneer in the type of grafiti with “stencil”. With this began a wave that would not stop, the styles would vary from generation to generation but the idea of expression through urban art (or street art) would remain anchored in the city.
STENCIL: The technique and the result of stenciling. This verb refers to the action of stamping something with the help of a template that has a design already cut out. The process consists of throwing the paint or ink through the cutout: in this way, the shape of the template is stamped.
In the two photos above, you can see that the original work is the one with the ocher and cream colors. The graffiti that have been made above are not part of the original work of Dicy (the artist who created it). That brings us to another topic that we talked about throughout the tour: street art is very fragile and ephemeral. Due to the fact that everyone can express themselves as they wish, it can happen that a work disappears forever. The reason may be: out of protest, rivalry or simply because there is no space or the importance of the works is ignored.
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The fragility of Street Art
With Dicy’s work the theme of fragility was not so evident, one could say “they know that this work is very beautiful, they are not going to destroy it”. It is not always like that, the great example we had was when Rob took us to a street to see a huge graffiti that Miss HAZARD, recognized in the world of street art, had recently done on Yoko Ono. Upon arrival, we saw this:
You can still see a little of what the original work was. Why did they paint over it? No idea, they don’t know if it was probably someone who didn’t even know the artist. We could even think of someone who doesn’t like Yoko Ono and painted over her in protest, but that option is less possible since they only put meaningless letters. In other works we could see graffiti on top that were protesting, and the difference is noticeable.
The original work was this:
The letters painted on the walls: the line between art or nonsense
Without fear of being wrong, I can say that surely we have all seen, at least once in our lives, those typical letter grafitti. It is difficult to draw a line between what we consider art or what is simply a visual nuisance, what is art for one person is not for another. More or less the difference could be put in the purpose of the work, in whether it seeks to express something (that is, something more than someone writing “I was here”).
Even a work in which a name is written can be considered art or not depending on the font used, for example in the work below by SMAK, Rob explains that the artist made his own typography. I think that between this graffiti and the typical one painted with letters (for example, see the one above where they covered Yoko Ono’s face), you can see the blatant difference. Although again: art is something very personal.
I’m not going to deny it, he was the artist I was most looking forward to seeing during the tour, Banksy’s birth in Bristol. I didn’t know about him, until a few years ago when a person called me ignorant for not knowing who Banksy was, well, I didn’t know. After that unpleasant episode, I was curious to know who he was, and I saw some of his works in photo. Some time later I learned that Bristol was the city of his beginnings, and it was largely what made me want to visit it (so if I have something to thank the insulter: that he aroused my curiosity to meet him).
Mild Mild West
The first work we could see was Mild Mild West, which was one of the last ones he did in such a way that the spray could be carried by the arm without using stencils. Most of his works are using stencil.
Banksy, although he is not the initiator of this wave of street art in Bristol, is one of the most famous so far. And the most mysterious, no one knows who he is. Only those who have been able to work with him know and Rob tells us that they do not reveal the mystery about the artist, for example the colorful graffiti under Mild Mild West, the creator tells Rob that having met Banksy is an experience he keeps to himself.
The rose caught in a mousetrap
After climbing a very steep street, my legs began to protest, we arrived at a residential building as normal as any other. The only thing special about it was a small frame next to the front door. As we got closer, we could see one of Banksy’s first works in Bristol: the rose caught in a mousetrap. The work has been framed, and protected, with the help of Where the Wall and the residents who are obviously very proud to have such a work in their building.
Street Art as a profession
Rob explained to us that today many of the graffiti that can be seen around the city are even made by petition. That is, someone has a wall and an idea, but to develop it they hire an artist. We were even able to see graffiti on various businesses. What this leads us to is that artists have finally reached a point where they can truly live off this. Before they had to have another job that gave them a living and art didn’t give them money. Nowadays, urban art is much more accepted and even demanded and although it sounds like a cliché but “there is no way to work on what you like“.
In fact, Where the Wall, in addition to promoting urban art towards the tourism side, also unite artists to connect with job opportunities. As you can see, they are completely dedicated to Street Art in all its facets. Even educational since they offer courses to get started in graffiti.
For example, this doesn’t look like graffiti, but it is, and it was an agreed collaboration between the church and the artist. It looks like a sky and blends in perfectly with the building.
The Stokes Croft China
During the tour, we came across the Stokes Croft China gallery, which not surprisingly sells Chinese porcelain. But not only this, they also sponsor the “People’s Republic of Stokes Croft” association, which aims to promote creativity for the benefit of the community. For example, they provide a huge wall to make announcements to the community, but in an artistic way.
And a few steps further on we have in front of us a building, something old, with letters that imply that t-shirts are printed (or were printed) there. Rob tells us that it was the printing house where even Banksy-authored t-shirts were made. At that time he was not famous and made them to survive. Few were printed and at the time they were selling for nothing. Today, one of those is worth… you can imagine: a lot.
Going around the bans
Despite the fact that today Street Art is much more accepted by society in general, the prohibitions still haunt artists. Depending on the situation, the act of “painting” on the wall is considered as damage to private property and punishable. Some artists have found a way around this prohibition: instead of painting, they stick paper on top! In some paper graffiti, you just don’t see the difference. You have to go and touch the work to realize it.
In an old building, whose wall was blackened by the passage of time, we could see another technique. It was about “cleaning the building, but leaving the dark in the desired areas. In other words, something like “reverse” graffiti.”
The huge buildings
Another category of works of Urban Art are those that can be seen in very tall buildings. There are all kinds of forms of expression, and what makes you think is that artists really want to show their art to the world. So much so that they are able to climb a building and do it.
The most important Street Art Festival in Europe called Upfest is celebrated in the city. Many artists come from all over the world and with this Bristol is consolidated as the European capital of Urban Art.
A sullied Banksy: Well Hung Lover
The last Banksy of this Urban Art tour in Bristol is the “Well Hung Lover” that needs no explanation. What does need an explanation are the graffiti that have been done above, as it turns out that the blue ones were made by other graffiti artists who protested, several years ago, when Banksy began to have his works in galleries. According to them, a work of Urban Art should be on the street for everyone to see. And this is where we told you that there was a difference between graffiti for protest or one for no reason (like Yoko Ono’s). When someone protests, he usually says why he is protesting.
The black graffiti with the letters KAPE that if it is not yet known why it was done, protest or just want to attract attention. It is not known yet, it is recent.
This Street Art tour in Bristol is absolutely recommended, fun, colorful, fascinating, I also loved Rob’s anecdotes, he even told us how he ended up working in the world of Street Art. He was a computer scientist and at one point he chased his dreams, such stories brighten the day. And after saying goodbye to him, we went to look for some more works by Banksy in Bristol that, being a little further away, we didn’t get to see on the walk.
But there are still more Banksy works in Bristol
Before visiting the huge ship SS Great Britain, we looked for the rather simple piece of graffiti that reads “You don’t need permission to build castles in the sky” with a smiley face. Too bad they knocked down a piece of the wall and one of the “eyes” of the happy face, from this work by Banksy in Bristol, disappeared. One more example of how ephemeral this is.
The other work we found shortly before sunset was the “girl with earring.” How funny 😀 I hadn’t realized that the earring was an alarm device. I loved it, I watched it for a long time. In fact, so much so that we missed the last ferry to get back to the hotel (oh well, Uber time).
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