By Anushka Dongare, Fourth Year, Aerospace Engineering
Walking through Bristol you’d be hard-pressed to find a single street which hasn’t been adorned with art worthy of exhibition in the Tate. Street art has been an integral part of the fabric of Bristol for decades, first emerging in the 80s with the rise of counterculture, and has since helped bring creatives like Banksy to the forefront of the international art scene. Over the past 40 years, the city’s walls have become an infinitely expansive blank canvas affording artists of every calibre the opportunity for self-expression unbounded by the restrictions that more traditional mediums might provide.
A recent addition to this canvas is a piece depicting some beloved Bristolian characters with a particular affinity for Wensleydale and a deep-rooted rivalry with a penguin. Situated in Broadmead just opposite the HMV sits the new Wallace and Gromit mural entitled ‘A Cracking Day out in Bristol’, painted by local artist David Bain. You could easily miss this striking piece if you weren’t looking to lock eyes with Wallace while you’re out on the town, but walk past L’Osteria and it’s a sight to behold. Implementing a colour palette heavily inspired by the rainbow of houses that shape Bristol’s landscape, Bain perfectly encapsulates the vibrancy of the city. Further drawing on Bristol’s distinctive architecture, Bain beautifully celebrates the landmarks that all students come to know and love in their time here.
Much like Bain’s, many murals in the city centre use famous symbols and iconography to capture the feel of Bristol. However, if you were to venture into neighbourhoods like St Pauls, the imagery shifts from that of the characters and buildings that form them, to those illustrating the people that embody them. Here, the artists capture the true heart of Bristol. In these areas, profound importance is placed on a sense of community and shared spirit - ideals which are deeply rooted in the multicultural backgrounds of its people. So, it follows that the street art you find here will often pay homage to this immense sense of pride in their identity through vivid pieces such as: ‘Taj Mahal Girl’ by Stinkfish (Mina Road), ‘United Souls, United Goals’ by Mr Cenz (Gloucester Road) and ‘The Seven Saints of St Pauls’ by Michele Curtis (throughout St Pauls). Using street art as a medium, the people of St Pauls have turned their surroundings into an immersive celebration of their culture, evoking deep feelings of belonging and shared identity by tapping into raw humanity in their art.
But alongside this celebratory aspect, it’s important to note that street art is an inherently political exercise. By claiming common spaces, street art reaches a wide and varied audience, and by encouraging open conversation it provokes serious introspection amongst its viewers. A particularly moving example of this is the beautiful patchwork mural by Hazard One (St Nicks) which brings light to the issue of sexual harassment so many women face and is a piece which always has me staring up in reverence. Although social media can afford a similar reach, battling its heavily algorithmic nature with its preference for snappy editing over artistic content can be an overwhelming hurdle. Street art, however, provides a more accessible avenue for young artists to broadcast their unique voice and vision through their reclamation of the city’s architecture. These young creatives have a transformative effect. They turned an initially bland landscape into a collaborative gallery of sorts, affording each other a public forum for expression without the often-insurmountable barriers of the professional art world.
This revolutionisation of the landscape has made Bristol artistically immersive; on Nelson Street alone you’re craning your neck to take in the towering imagery in an experience reminiscent of visiting the Sistine Chapel. Being surrounded by such all-encompassing visuals it's easy to feel the unbounded passion for creativity that pulsates through Bristol, pervading every avenue of artistic self-expression be it through music, food, or fashion.
It's no wonder so many creatives flock to a city which is a multi-sensory celebration of the artistic vision – a city where creativity thrives, and inspiration is limitless.
Featured image: Dan Hutton
Which Bristol street art has caught your eye in the past?