BBritish street art has traveled somewhat since its edgy, graffiti-led beginnings in the 1980s, when New York pioneers became role models for guerrilla artists in British cities. At the time, as part of a crackdown on illegal tagging in Bristol, British Transport Police raided a “spray art project” which later counted Banksy among its former pupils. Earlier this month, Banksy was made an honorary professor at the University of the Creative Arts, and an exhibition of his work is due to go on tour.
In Leicester this week there was further confirmation that spray can culture is now a dominant feature of the cityscape. The highest work of street art in Europe has just been completed in the city center, acclaimed by all and interviewed by one of the artists from the Today show. Stretching 82 metres, the mural in St George’s Tower offers a primary color tribute to the city’s achievements and heritage; football, rugby and the University of Leicester’s pioneering DNA research are all referenced.
Even examples of large-scale street art like this do not match the incomparable creations of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera a century ago. But, as with the impressive Athena Rising mural in Leeds, it is also public art for the people. Painted in five weeks by local spray artists from the Graffwerk project – whose website pledges to “break the visual monotony” – the work was carried out in collaboration with a group of companies dedicated to boosting the attractiveness of the center -City of Leicester. In May, the same partnership hosted street artists from around the world for the Bring the Paint festival, during which more than 40 large-scale works of art were created across the city. Across the country, street artists are winning major commissions from local organizations and transforming perspectives on everyday life.
Some early day practitioners may feel nostalgia for the days when aerosol art had to be performed stealthily and quickly. In his book Wall and Piece, Banksy recalls a police chase that led him to hide under a dump truck for over an hour. But it’s cause for celebration that the impact of the Bristol artist’s work and the groundbreaking genius of street artists such as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Franco Gaskin – AKA the Picasso of Harlem – have opened the way to a general appreciation. of the value of street art in public spaces. Since cave painting, man has felt the need to imprint an artistic imprint on his environment, whether natural or built.
Powerful street murals can reinforce a sense of place and local identity and reach audiences who may not frequent more formal venues. Exposed to the elements and the unpredictable fortunes of the buildings and areas with which they are inextricably linked, this type of art also has a vulnerability not found in museums or galleries. It can surprise, subvert and delight. Following the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Harlem business owners erected steel banning gates to protect their stores. Gaskin covered them with murals depicting daily scenes of local life, transforming the area and the mood. Leicester’s newest street attraction was born under less difficult circumstances, but is a welcome addition to the growing UK street art portfolio.