Banksy

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And Bristol Street Art

Whilst in college I came across a book called Wall and Piece by Banksy. Admittedly, at the time, my understanding of street art and graffiti was very limited. I understood it as mainly a practice of tagging or of murals that would either enliven or destroy streets as they slowly filled with art. But the book gave me a different perspective. I learned that street art isn’t used just to deface property in senseless anarchy, but a way of fighting back against advertising, politics, unfair social norms and social stigmas. Perhaps this is why the art form is so prominent in places where great social divisions occur, like the Berlin and Separation walls in Germany and Palestine.

My obsession with Banksy’s work grew, and I started checking out more books on street art from the library, few though they were at the time. For those of you who are not familiar with Banksy, he is one of the most well-recognized street stencil artists in the world today and revolutionized the way people see and view modern graffiti. From Bristol in the United Kingdom, Banksy is of unverified identity, but has directed films and hosted exhibitions of his work successfully whilst remaining anonymous. His work mainly consists of dark political satire, and his stencils are recognizable worldwide. But his roots have been traced to the Bristol underground scene, and it is here where my travels take place.

I moved to Bristol in early 2011 and I was drawn to the city from the information I had read about its counter-cultural movements and from my obsession with Banksy. I was eager to get to know more about the city, but it took me a very long time to learn about the underground scene. Making friends with the right people definitely helps, but you have to start in the right place. 

THE BRISTOL UNDERGROUND MOVEMENT

"Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable" - BANKSY

Since the early 1990s, the Bristol underground scene has long been a culture associated with drum and bass, graffiti art and reggae roots. Clubs like Mr. Wolves on Corn Street and Number 51 in Stokes Croft have had many DnB nights with local street artists ‘performing’ by creating giant artworks on the walls, or on butchers paper, to the traditional ‘Bristol Sound.’ It is a culmination of peace, love, bass and art. However, these venues are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the deep connection between graffiti, trip hop and drum and bass in the city. Artists such as; Massive Attack, Nick Walker, Inkie and Banksy, were all once a part of the underground movement.

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Jukebox Chimera Beast by Flying Fortress and Nychos

For a bit more of a backstory, the original acts of anarchy and protests by way of art were sparked by the recession. The recession in Bristol caused unemployment, poor housing infrastructure, and racial segregation. The effects were especially felt in the suburbs of St. Paul, Stokes Croft, Montpelier, and Easton. But it is here where the rabbit hole gets deeper. Free parties in abandoned warehouses and homes became the norm in theses lower socio-economic areas, and it fuelled a free art, speech and music movement. Creative minds could be in their element, without distractions or discrimination. 

Along with music and art came anarchy and the Stokes Croft and St. Paul’s riots were large scale examples of public disorder in Bristol. Smaller scale protests came in the form of anarchists gluing the locks to bank doors or disabling the plumbing of a political establishment.

See No Evil Festival, Mark Bode

NIGHTCLUBS IN BRISTOL

The many free parties I attended in Bristol were always located in houses/warehouses with the most spectacular graffiti. Before you can ‘enter’ you have to pay the man at the door, the last time I was at one I believe it cost-

‘Two quid or a bit of Ketamine.’

I don’t judge.

Inside is a mix-mash of different people, all of different nationalities, cultures, occupations and races. This is not a place for heels or dresses, it is a place where you come to be free from conformity; where you dance and celebrate in peace and love. Finding a free party isn’t always easy, so for those of you wanting to experience a little of this Bristol scene, I have a few more established suggestions in some of the underground suburbs of Bristol.

  • Lakota in Stokes Croft
  • The Black Swan in Easton
  • Cosie’s in St Paul’s
  • The Star and Garter in Montpelier
  • Blue Mountain in Stokes Croft
  • Motion in Temple Meads
  • The Full Moon and Attic Bar in Stokes Croft

If you are tracing the steps of Banksy’s work, then you will want to pop in at two of Bristol's most famous Institutions- Thekla on the Mud Dock and The Canteen Bar in Stokes Croft. Thekla is a famous nightclub aboard a boat and hosts some of Bristol’s best gigs. It was originally a floating theater and art gallery before becoming a nightclub in the 90s. Thekla helped fuel the Bristol underground scene and hosted early gigs of Massive Attack.  It also had regular bass nights for Bristols booming DnB scene.

Banksy was influenced by the founding member of Massive Attack, a then Graffiti artist called “3D.” So you can imagine Thekla being a favorite haunt for Banksy. On one side of the boat is the grim reaper, one of Banksy’s more famous works. Admission to Thekla depends on the night, but you can buy tickets to any event at the Bristol ticket shop, near Cabot Circus, or online at www.bristolticketshop.co.uk.

For a less whomping night, The Canteen in Stokes Croft holds a very special place for many Bristolians. Located in the “People’s Republic of Stokes Croft” a bunch of squatters turned the building into a bar and community center. It's outdoor terrace hosts one of Banksy’s most impressive works, “The Mild, Mild West.” This piece was such an iconic and important piece of artwork to Bristol, that Caleb (my husband) has a tattoo of it on his arm. Right across from the Mild, Mild West is Cosmo Sarson’s Breakdancing Jesus.

SEE NO EVIL AND BRISTOL'S OUTDOOR STREET ART GALLERIES

“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn't illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall - it's wet.” - BANKSY

Stokes Croft is along Jamaica Street and Cheltenham/Gloucester road and is famed for its outdoor street gallery, independent shops, and nightlife. But walk through any suburb in Bristol, not forgetting the bear pit, and you will easily be able to satisfy your street art wonder. But the best way to get your fill of Bristol street art is to attend the ‘See no Evil’ festival, or see the collection, on Nelson Street in Bristol’s city center.

Nelson Street, Bristol

See no Evil is a public art display, and the festival took place in 2011. It was Europe’s largest street art festival at the time, and I was lucky enough to attend the block party when I was living there. It only took one night for buzz-talk to spread about the Festival. Famous Bristol artist Nick Walker, had completed an enormous vandal artwork of a pinstriped man overnight on one of Nelson Streets taller buildings. It’s so large; it can be seen throughout most of Bristol’s City Centre, Kingsdown and St. Michael’s hill. All the see no evil works were created under road closures and with scaffolding. The event was organized by Inkie and the Bristol City Council-  would you believe. 

Some of the artists working at the festival include; Inkie, Nick Walker, Tats Crew, shoe, Aryz, El Mac, Mr Jago, Andy Council, Chu, Mr Wanny, China Mike, SheOne, Sickboy, Otto Schnade, Revert and Smug. Not to mention, the legendary Goldie was there. Make sure to check out the 16-minute short film Who’s Lenny, while we're at it.

Street art is so embedded in Bristol culture that even if you venture to the Avon river gorge, you still see tags and art along some of the cliff faces. My favorite being a tag on a 100m tall cliff that says-

“Bristol rebel city against all authority.”

If street art, graffiti, counter-culture, and bohemianism are your jam, then there is nowhere in the world quite like Bristol.

Mechanical Bird, Pixel Pancho