Street art is lamented by just about every community in the world. On one hand, it’s art — sometimes beautiful and truly inspired; on the other hand, it can be seen as vandalism and defacing of public property. In Bristol, a city just an hour and a half drive from London in the south west of England, street art is alive and thriving, despite efforts to prosecute the artists, or vandals – however you might see it. For me, the highlight of the time we spent in Bristol was the Bristol Street Art Tour from WHERETHEWALL, which taught us a lot about the situation and introduced us to a bunch of the top artists in the community.
The tour starts from the College Green and takes you around town to see some of the best and most creative street art in the city. Our tour was led by the incredibly knowledgeable John Nation; John has worked with the Bristol youth — including Banksy — for decades, trying to provide a legal way for them to showcase their talents and provide something enjoyable for the community. He and their other tour guides have insider knowledge that makes the tour both up-to-date with the newest art and thoroughly educational. We got to see some of the famous Banksy paintings, along with commissioned pieces and we even watched some of the up-and-coming Bristol artists at work.
It would be impossible to talk about all of the art we saw along our tour, but I picked out a handful of my favorites to highlight the diversity the tour provides.
The Well-Hung Lover by Banksy
Banksy is a Bristol native and one of the most-recognizable names in street art. He was the only artist I was familiar with before this tour, so it seemed appropriate to start with one of his pieces. The Well-Hung Lover depicts Banksy’s former business partner in a bit of a compromising position; allegedly they had a falling out after many of Banksy’s pieces that had been “lost” were found in his possession. The Well-Hung Lover was stenciled on a busy street under the cover of night. The blue splotches of paint were from a drive-by paintball “attack”; apparently not everyone is a fan of Banksy’s work.
The Vandal by Nick Walker
Nick Walker created this six-story piece by projecting a stencil he had made onto the wall from the building across the street. This wasn’t the largest street art we saw on the tour, but it was fairly close; it took Nick four nights to finish it, working up close to the building and then coming down once an hour to gain fresh perspective. I really liked the vandal character — a recurring theme in Nick’s work.
Untitled by Stik
Stik is a London-based artist known for drawing stick figures. This was probably the most minimalistic of everything we saw on the tour, but I liked it anyway. Standing almost 9 stories tall, you have to really crane your neck to take in the towering stick-figure giants glancing down at you. Like The Vandal, this art was commissioned as part of See No Evil, a giant street art festival held in Bristol.
Stokes Croft Area
Brunswick Square Construction Site
The hoarders surrounding the Brunswick Square construction site were originally painted a plain blue and the walls were quickly tagged (and covered up, and re-tagged) by locals. WHERETHEWALL worked with the construction manager to arrange for well-respected members of the tagging community to create commissioned art for the hoarders; once the new art went up, the illegal tagging stopped. Personally, I am not a fan of tagging — I can appreciate the skill for quality tags, but it just doesn’t do anything for me aesthetically. Still, I liked how WHERETHEWALL was able to get legal work for the artists.
The two-hour tour went by fast, and I could easily have walked around with John for another hour or two. It was clear we had only barely scratched the surface of what Bristol street art has to offer. If you’re interested in a tour, you can book through their website or by emailing [email protected].
Not surprisingly, Bristol made it into the list of Best Cities for Street Art.
(As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own honest reflection on our travel experiences).