Best of British: Street art

Anna Walker

Not all great art is confined to galleries. These cool cities are taking creativity to the streets…

Bristol

When most of us think about street art, one name inevitably springs to mind: Banksy. So, where better to take in some of Britain’s best street art than the home of the man himself?

Emerging from the Bristol Underground Scene of the 1990s, the anonymous Banksy’s work has a distinct stencil style and often carries politically charged or darkly humorous messages.

Visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of Banksy’s work have plenty of opportunity, with 16 of his artworks scattered across the city. Our personal favourite is The Girl With the Stick, stealthily painted on the wall of Bridge Farm Primary School in 2016 after a school house was named after the artist.

Be sure to visit during the Upfest Urban Paint Festival—which welcomed some 50,000 visitors in July—for a flavour of the other street artists decorating Bristol’s walls. Held along North Street in Bedminster, it’s Europe’s biggest free street art and graffiti festival showcasing work from over 70 artists.

 

Shoreditch, London

London’s hipster capital, Shoreditch, boasts several magnificent works by artists from all corners of the globe. So extensive is the selection of street art on show here that several companies now offer guided graffiti tours of the area.

Check out Great Eastern Street where graffiti-covered tube trains watch over the streets below from the rooftops, constantly-changing murals line the road and huge lettering spells out the sweet message, “Let Us Adore And Endure Each Other”.

Globally renowned artist Stik’s work—which now peppers the entire city—is perhaps at its best in Shoreditch. Visit Princelet Street to see his iconic red shutter doors then take the short, five-minute walk to Brick Lane for delicious street food as you admire the ever-changing murals of Pedley Street.

 

Cardiff

Cardiff’s colourful streets are defined by the illustrative quality of the street art that graces their buildings, walls and car parks.

Thanks to the Empty Walls project in 2014, many public murals now dot the city, including pieces by Phlegm, an internationally renowned Welsh artist known for his narrative-driven murals.

His giant rendering of a Welsh dragon (above) presides over a non-descript garage on City Road while his beastly skeletal creature curls itself ominously around Cardiff Central train station.

One particularly inventive artwork stretches across the Crwys Road railway bridge (right) depicting a parade of prehistoric animals, evolving from fish and dinosaurs through to kangaroos, apes and armadillos. Known as The False Evolution of Man, the piece was created by Wendy Bridges and Stuart Reeve back in 2015.

 

Aberdeen

It’s known as the grey “Granite City”, but since the introduction of the Nuart Street Art Festival in 2017, Aberdeen has been flecked with colour.

Street Art is given a three-dimensional twist off of Union Row where a huge horse portrait (above) has been constructed from brightly coloured recycled plastics by Portuguese artist Bordalo II. His art is centred around a mission to create beauty from waste, with the motto, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

One of the city’s most spectacular pieces was inspired by the sometimes-uncomfortable union between England and Scotland—Argentinian artist Hyuro’s An Affective Bond (right). Find it in the East Green Tunnels, a passage popular with graffiti artists that leads through to Netherkirkgate, one of the city’s most ancient streets.

 

Newcastle

Way back in 2006, Newcastle’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art held one of the UK’s first major street art exhibitions, and the city has been paving the way for great graffiti since.

There are beautiful Geisha murals from renowned, Newcastle-born artist Hush, a huge blue mural from the famous London Police (below) at The Ship Inn, and several pieces by the elusive guerrilla artist Karl Striker.

One of our favourite British street artists, Faunagraphic, creates graffiti art inspired by her love of nature and birds. Head to Arch 4, Stepney Bank to take in her magnificent owl mural bearing the inscription, “An ancient place of lead and stone and steel and scrap, sluice gates water, tunnels, mud, children, artists, beasts and birds, where future grows and shakes its wings.”

 

Manchester

No two trips to Manchester’s Northern Quarter are quite the same, thanks to the rapidity with which its walls are spray painted with beautiful images, words and colours, painted over and then decorated anew.

For the most jaw-dropping art, be sure to stop in at Stevenson Square, maintained by local graffiti collective OuthouseMCR, Tariff Street where a huge, finely-detailed piece in the guise of a giant blue diamond by Swiss duo Nevercrew (below) looms over the streets and Tib Street where every other wall offers up its bricks to a splash of creativity.

Wherever you wander, expect to encounter bee designs: it’s the city’s symbol and an emblem for solidarity for its residents. One of the biggest bee homages can be found on Oldham Street, where a mural by artist Qubek featuring 22 bees swarming around a honey heart acts as a memorial to the 22 people who lost their lives during the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017.

 

Leeds

Kick-started by 2016’s A City Less Grey project—which endeavoured to subvert the city’s grey walls with street art, installations and events—graffiti is now an inseparable part of Leeds’s cultural fabric.

The Platform Building is a must-see for street art seekers, where gigantic owls seem to swoop down from the rooftops in a piece entitled Athena Rising. At 154ft tall and 36ft wide—that’s taller than Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue—the mural is Britain’s tallest work of street art and it took weeks of work and hundreds of cans of spray paint to complete.

It’s also worth paying a visit to the now-derelict Lyon Works’ building on Templar Lane, where local artists and students from Leeds College of Art have filled the boarded windows with giant hand-painted letters spelling out the inspiring Einstein quote, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, design for tomorrow.”