Beyond Banksy: Growing up with Graffiti in Bristol. Ignite Swansea #1

It should have gone something like this..



This is the old Children’s Hospital in Bristol — it was replaced by somewhere significantly more modern in 2001 but in the 80s this was it. I spent about a decade as an outpatient — sometimes needing to make weekly visits.


It was on one of those regular trips though that my life changed forever. My mum took me a different route to the hospital that day and on the way I saw this. It was the first time I had ever seen graffiti in real life. I was mesmerised.


I was already aware of graffiti due to what was the first music video I can remember. Malcolm McClarens Buffalo Gals introduced me to the New York hip hop scene & in the video the legendary graffiti artist Lee was heavily featured..


..but it was Channel 4 showing the documentary Style Wars during the Christmas school holidays in late ’83 that really did for me! I recorded it on an old Betamax videotape and watched it so often it wore out.


..and then Subway Art was released. This was the bible for any and all graffiti kids in the 80s. Anecdotally it was the most shop lifted book in history. Everyone I knew had a copy but nobody seemed to have a receipt.


..and then to seal the deal the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol — best known at the time for avant-garde, contemporary art — handed over the venue to some of the UKs best graffiti artists and made the event free!


No I never went to prison for graffiti! However the prison had a huge wall and it backed on to an allotment — so this is where I painted! The funny thing was the prisoners could hear us and would heckle us from their side of the wall!


looking back it is amazing that such a community built up — there was no internet, most of the active painters were pretty young and even the magazines and fanzines were pretty rare at this point — and not exactly available at your local WH Smith.


…ah the 90s. Yea. Hmmmmm. So I am pretty sure I was still involved in graffiti and there is definitely some evidence I was even still painting a bit but to be honest…well..I was at uni and pretty drunk for most of this period and my memories are blurry at best!


…then good old Sir Tim unleashed the web on the world and it soon became possible to find like minded souls no matter how geeky your interests — even in those long forgotten dial up days pictures of graffiti from around the world flooded the web..


…15 years after graffiti exploded in Bristol it had its second-coming with the huge Walls on Fire exhibition in the city centre. I mainly remember I met Banksy briefly for the one and only time — before that was a big thing..


…something that would soon become quite a notable claim to fame. The Banksy era really got going around 2000 although he had been painting for a while by then doing some pretty traditional stuff. Then he found the style he became famous for and *boom*


…but the chosen one wasn’t alone — a whole generation of artists emerged and congregated initially around the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft — briefly famous for a weekend of anti-Tesco riots. To this day the area remains covered in graffiti but these days no piece goes unharmed unfortunately.


…Bristol was fast building an international reputation as a city of graffiti — Upfest launched in 2008 billing itself as Europes biggest street art festival- covering a city street top-to-bottom in art.


…and the Council realised Banksy was a tourist attraction and tourists = money! This led to the enormously successful exhibition at the Bristol museum in the summer of 2009 — where half the fun was watching people queuing to queue!


…Then in 2011 they organised the See No Evil event — a slightly grubby street in central Bristol was closed for the weekend and artists congregated from all over the world to pretty much paint every square inch of the place.


in 2013 I turned 40. So what did I do to celebrate? I hopped a flight to New York and made a pilgrimage to 5Pointz in Long Island City — the now sadly demolished mecca for NYC graffiti!


…then in 2015 I had a bit of a work related meltdown and needed to get away for a bit — so I ran away to Paris and spent a couple of days walking dodgy Paris neighbourhoods on the search for more street art and getting funny looks.


…and earlier this year I traveled to New Zealand for a wedding. When everyone else spent their time visiting glaciers, dipping in hot springs and biking down mountains I travelled to post earth quake Christchuch as I had read the centre had become a massive street art gallery..


…so here I am in Swansea now talking about the art form that has been a part of my life for more than 30 years. On Friday I fly to Berlin for another graffiti trip and these days my copy of Style Wars is Blu Ray not Betamax..