Or, better, I should say as seen on the streets of the Northern Quarter, as almost all murals can be spotted in this neighbourhood. Once the centre of the cotton industry, nowadays Manchester’s Northern Quarter is the hipster heaven of the city, and the best place to find some great street art. The most spectacular large-scale murals in the area were painted during Cities of Hope, a street art festival highlighting social injustices while raising money for Manchester charities.
Each of the nine artists who were invited to take part in the street art festival has chosen a social topic to highlight and, therefore, was matched with a local organization to champion their work.
Manchester street art guide > leading artists
Well known for his portraits showcasing some of film and TV’s most famous faces, Akse is a French street artist based in Manchester. He painted a portrait of David Bowie as part of the Out House Project, an outdoor project space for public art on a block of disused public toilets in Stevenson Square.
Still by Akse, is this photo-realistic graffiti portrait of Prince:
Axel Void (ES)
To develop the topic of “existentialism” for the Cities of Hope festival, Axel Void matched with charities working with people with mental health and anxiety issues. This work is titled “Sisyphus”, and it is inspired by Camus’ interpretation of the ancient Greek myth, where Sisyphus’ continual repetition of the punishment that Zeus had inflicted him is related to the human condition in the absurd search for meaning. This large-scale mural depicts a girl, whose smile is forced by someone else, as a metaphor of our search for happiness.
Still by Axel Void is this wall made as a reaction to the painting over of Norwegian artist Martin Whatson’s piece during the Cities of Hope festival:
Read my interview with Axel Void at Nuart 2016!
Christian Guémy’s social justice issue at Cities of Hope was homelessness, a topic that is not unusual in his production. The portraits that C215 painted during the festival are both based on photos of homeless people around the world by the Manchester-born photographer Lee Jeffries.
Beside these two large-scale pieces realized for the City of Hope conference, C215 left other smaller close-up portraits around Manchester; here are the ones I stumbled upon:
At the Cities of Hope festival, Case’s social issue was disability, more specifically mental health. He worked with the charity “Back on track” and painted a hyper-realistic portrait of one of the people they support in making positive changes in their lives.
This in the only Italian street artist that I’ve found in Manchester! This mural was painted in collaboration with PrintmySoul; it is titled “Lost Border” and it depicts the director David Lynch.
Dale Grimshaw (UK)
Dale took part to Cities of Hope as a special guest. Here he realized one of his iconic, tribal portraits, which is dedicated to those fighting for independence in West Papua.
Florence Blanchard painted a long mural characterized by her iconic geometric patterns and curvy shapes. Ema’s abstract style is directly inspired by her training as a scientist and depicts molecular landscapes questioning our idea of visual perception. This mural left me with a floating sensation as if I were moving through the sea.
For Cities of Hopes, Faith 47 chose to support gay rights by painting two men kissing. This mural perfectly fits her latest personal project, whose title (7.83 HZ) is inspired by the frequence of the inaudible atmospheric heartbeats of the Earth. This project is about the overall reverberation of our collective actions as human beings, and it is made up of moments of raw intimacy on walls, instants of connection between us such as this kiss.
This piece was commissioned in 2011 by Converse as part of the Wall to Wall project. Sarah Yates is an illustrator focusing on topics of environmental awareness. She is well known for mixing graffiti with graphic design and taking inspiration from nature, especially from birds, which are her favourite subjects, as we can see in this large-scale mural depicting a large blue tit.
Still part of the Cities of Hope festival is this mural by Hyuro, whose social justice issue was “war children”. This intimate work shows how the artist is currently exploring a new imaginative universe, which expands beyond the social issues connected with being a woman, the topic she worked through in the past years. This wall is aimed at giving voice to the lost innocence of all children who are unable to live the childhood they deserve. I couldn’t help appreciating that, while Hyuro’s style is becoming more detailed, her surrealist sensibility is still at the core of each and every piece.
Martin Whatson (NO)
For Cities of Hope, the Norwegian street artist brings up environmental issues by painting one of his unique and very recognizable murals that mix grey monochromatic characters done with stencils and bright coloured graffiti. Here, he gives context to a chaos of tags spray painted in many different shades of green by adding a stenciled man who is drawing the leaves onto a tree.
Mateus Bailon (BR)
His artworks are inspired by nature, animals, and the connection between human being and nature. His artistic imaginary is inhabited by fantastic creatures, especially birds, such as in “The Guardian of Ancoats”, the mural at the entrance of this former industrial neighbourhood that borders with the Northern Quarter.
Still by Mateus Bailon is this other vibrant large-scale mural depicting colourful and incredibly detailed birds:
At Cities of Hope, the street art duo highlighted immigration and integration by painting a huge quartz that little featureless people are trying to climb. The quartz is a metaphor of how often the central aspect of something isn’t immediately visible. Like a simultaneous vision, quartz’s twofold nature shows us the difficult conditions experienced by refugees. Through their unique, surreal imaginary the artists encourage us to think about boundaries, which can be physical as well as emotional.
Nomad Clan (UK)
This female street art duo composed by CBloxx and Aylo painted a large-scale mural that highlights male suicide. The work was inspired by the documentary “Grayson Perry – All Man”, which explores how contemporary masculinity shapes the lives and expectations of men nowadays.
For Cities of Hope, Sheffield’s Phlegm highlights “sustainability” by painting a black and white city encapsulated into a water bottle as if it were a self-sufficient microcosm. The image is very detailed and intricate as usual in his art, which can be considered at the borderline between street art and illustration.
Seeing them at work in Bristol, I couldn’t help falling in love with this artist duo, whose work is a mix of classical art and urban contemporary art, an explosion of bright colours from which sculpture-like figures stand out. For Cities of Hope they chose to work on “conflicts”, therefore depicting Hercules fighting the centaur Nessus.
Space Invader (FR)
I guess he doesn’t need any introduction ;-) He invaded Manchester in 2004 with 47 of his space invaders, and a few of them are still visible… so log in to your Flashinvaders account and get ready to flash!
Subism Collective (UK)
This huge mural was painted in 2011 in collaboration with Red Bull by four artists (Deus, N4t4, Philth and Ventsa) from the Derby-based digital creative agency “Subism”. This earth, wind, fire, and water-themed illustration is known as a landmark in the Northern Quarter!
Tankpetrol is a Polish street artist now based in Manchester. He realized a huge, detailed portrait of Anthony Burgess, the author of “A clockwork orange.”
Manchester street art guide > off the Northern Quarter
New Wakefield Street Railway Arches
There used to be a festival held here called “Eurocultured,” which mixed visual art with dancers, performers, and live music bands. The festival celebrated the diversity of modern European culture. It ended in 2012, but some of the artworks are still visible.
Lemn Sissay’s street poetry
Lemn is the author of a series of books of poetry alongside articles, records, broadcasts and plays. His landmark poems are installed throughout London and Manchester, especially on the streets around Piccadilly Gardens.
I’m a huge Queer As Folk fan, so the first spot I wanted to check out in Manchester was Canal Street, the main street of Manchester’s gay village where the TV show takes place. Little did I know that, over there, I would have also found some street art! My favourite piece is the evergreen Batman & Superman kiss, whose author I wasn’t able to track down.
Another great mural is the one painted on the side of the Molly House, which is a tribute to Manchester’s gay icons.
Last, but not least, a stencil by the East Londoner Stewy depicting Quentin Crips.
Bonus track: graffiti at the Mantra Warehouse
On my last morning in Manchester, I wanted to take some pictures at the Mantra Warehouse, a venue space covered with graffiti, which is located in the industrial outskirts of Manchester. But while I was getting ready for my last graffiti hunt, a little voice told me to double check my train ticket to Birmingham, which turned out to be leaving earlier than I recalled. So it was my fellow “spotter” and blogger Denise to go there on my behalf; she sent me these colourful pictures to complete my street art guide of Manchester… enjoy her reportage! ;)
Find these murals and plan your trip to Manchester with my Manchester Google Map!
PEEK THROUGH || You can see some of these murals in my travel video “1 weekend in Manchester… in 1 minute!”
You can hover over these (or any image) to quickly pin it!