When people asked me “Why Bristol?” my reply was always the same: “street art”.
The quiet hiss of the can as someone sprayed, and the shrill metal clacking as they shook it are the most distinctive sounds in Bristol, a city known more for the graffiti on its streets than for the paintings inside its museums.
Despite being the capital town of graffiti and street art, the scene is pretty local: graffiti hunting through the streets of Bristol allowed me to dig into the UK’s street art scene, which is relatively unknown in Italy.
While researching for this post, I bumped into lavish praise for Bristol from local and international street artists, unanimously describing this colourful city as “an amazing place to grow creatively”, “a vibrant and diverse city, filled with unusual and brilliant art”, “a giant learning curve” and a city that “must have had a massive subconscious influence on me with the ever-changing street art and graffiti around me, and the Upfest festival on my doorstep”.
Bristol street art guide > Locations
Although you can find graffiti and street art everywhere in Bristol, there are some “hotter” areas, such as Nelson Street, which was the location of “See no Evil” -Bristol’s first street art festival, which took place back in 2011-2012 and was organized by the legendary street artist Inkie.
More colourful areas are Stokes Croft, the hipster heaven, and Easton, where Banksy supposedly lived.
International and well-known street artists usually paint in Bedminster, the area of the excellent Upfest, the biggest urban art festival in Europe. Every year, the Upfest gallery invites a line-up of talented street artists, while hundreds of younger artists and writers paint along. This means that –except for a few exceptions- murals are painted over every year (which is not always a bad thing, as Dan Kitchener highlighted here).
Another place where the paint must be inches thick is the Bearpit, a roundabout underpass turned skate park, which gets regular –often daily- makeovers.
Bristol street art guide > Artists
This local artist mixes cartoon with surrealism, graffiti and his sense of humour. His odd characters are inspired by poems and song lyrics. His name is a tribute to the legendary writer Freedom, who was active when 3dom began painting in the streets.
ANDY COUNCIL (UK)
Urban landscapes compose the structure of his either real or mythological animals. Sometimes they are from imaginary cities, other times from his beloved Bristol, which is represented through the iconic rows of houses and local landmarks.
He is known for his humorous stencils often portraying minions, superheroes, characters from the Family Guy show and more pop references, especially cartoons. His pieces are simple yet effective, always managing to get a few smiles out of passers-by, but also making them think. His works are playful and filled with tongue-in-cheek messages. My favourite appeared during Upfest 2016 and said “Words can’t describe how beautiful you are. But numbers can: 6/10”.
Invited to the ‘See No Evil’ festival, the Spanish street artist Aryz painted a 5-floor-tall dog using his trademark dreamlike stile and his iconic pastel shades to play with transparency, light, shadow and depth. The mural is huge, but the legend goes that it only took one day to paint it.
You all know who Banksy is, at least as much as you don’t know who Banksy is. Unless you are from Bristol. In that case, I’m sure you have a Banksy story to share with street art bloggers like me, perhaps about the time you were hanging out together in Easton. I heard so many Banksy stories all over the summer and, although none of them helped me figure out the identity of the guy (and –honestly- I don’t even care), they all highlighted a fundamental point: whoever Banksy is, Bristol is incredibly proud of him.
>> check out my post on where to find Banksy’s murals in Bristol!
The first time I saw Jerry he was painting a shutter on North Street. Little did I know that soon he would paint one of my favourite murals of the latest edition of Upfest! BirdO’s mural is colourful and fun, depicting one of his iconic parrots set inside a three-dimensional, abstract composition.
I spotted their tribute to Txakurra in one of the most dubious alleys in Stokes Croft. This is one of the most active areas in Bristol graffiti-wise, and the lower part of their “Wet Dog” was painted over pretty soon, but the rotten dog’s head is still visible.
His space scenarios are scattered all around Bristol, but undoubtedly the most famous is the one covering the whole block of the ‘Full Moon’ pub in Stokes Croft. His inspiration comes from Hubble Telescope photos and materializes into abstract representations of nebulas and star clusters.
Cheo creates cartoon characters that quickly become local heroes. His art is friendly and family-oriented, and all the local kids love him: when I volunteered at the Upfest art gallery during the festival, hundreds of children literally dragged their parents into the shop to buy either Cheo’s t-shirts or other stuff based on Mr. Graff, who is the character Cheo created for the popular series of ‘Mister Man and Little Miss’.
This artistic husband-and-wife duo composed of Shalack Attack and Bruno Smoky painted an amazing piece in Stokes Croft depicting a vibrant masked face. Influenced by their Latin American heritage, this piece brings a Carnival vibe through the rainy alleys of Bristol. I especially love the detail of the snake eyes, which introduces their iconic ‘spiritual animal’ theme into the picture.
CONNOR HARRINGTON (IRL)
Connor is originally from Ireland, but he moved to the UK to study Fine Art in London. This piece titled ‘The duel of Bristol’ was painted during the ‘See no evil’ festival in 2012. His style is inspired by old master oil paintings, but his technique is pretty unique: he uses realistic images of people, with some parts of their bodies depicted and others left obscured, all along incorporating abstract elements and sharp lines. He also uses solvents to finish his works with a mesmerizing effect. The colour palette is usually dark, as is the message of his paintings.
COSMO SARSON (UK)
His ‘breakdancing Jesus’, which he painted three years ago in the courtyard of The Canteen, is among the most iconic murals in Bristol. It is part of a series of breakdancing Jesuses, which he began in 2004 after the Pope had acclaimed a Polish breakdancing group. Massive and glittering, this huge mural marked his comeback after a 12-year-long break from art. Cosmo also took part in Upfest 2016, and he realized this colourful mural in Bedminster:
DALE GRIMSHAW (UK)
Invited to take part in Upfest 2016, Dale painted a dramatically emotional portrait of an Indian woman using his typical red-white-and-gold palette. Yet another of his tribal portraits, in this work the archetypal painted-face is juxtaposed with some gritty graffiti lettering.
DAN KITCHENER (UK)
I met Dan while he was painting ‘Streets of Colours’ on Westbourne Grove during Upfest 2016. In this piece we find one of his wet streets full of neon signs, and his distinguishing depiction of steam, mist, rain, lights, reflections and glows.
>>> Check out my interview with Dan Kitchener!
DR. LOVE (GE)
From Tbilisi (Georgia), Dr. Love creates multi-layer, colourful graffiti inspired by pop references, with a humorous and critical context, often about pollution. He is the most popular street artist in Georgia and he visited Bristol during Upfest 2015.
EL MAC (USA)
Invited to the festival ‘See no evil’, El Mac realized a huge mural on Nelson Street depicting his girlfriend holding a baby and titled ‘Clothed with the sun’. As usual, the subject is represented through rendering, an intricate series of concentric lines that El Mac uses to obtain a three-dimensional and photorealistic image.
He began painting in the streets back in 2000, but he started his popular series of metallic shading, hyper-realistic balloon letters in 2010 and, since then, he has been invited all over the world to paint his three-dimensional optical illusions. Last year, he brought his chrome and silver inflatable letters to Bristol writing ‘Up, up and away’ on a long wall.
Do you remember my unicorn hunt around the streets of Bristol? This spray-painted unicorn on St. John on the Wall’s Church was one of my favourite discoveries! It was painted in a fresco style by the local artist Feek, together with Paris (who painted the background).
FIN DAC (IRL)
I met Fin Dac while he was painting his Japanese “kokeshi” doll at Upfest 2016. He told me that his dolls must show some influences from the local area. In this case, it’s the reference to Banksy’s ‘girl with the balloon’ and the balloon itself, which is shaped like the house from the movie ‘UP’ as a tribute to the Up-fest street art festival.
>>> Check out my interview with Fin Dac!
GEMMA COMPTON (UK)
In her pieces, which are strongly influenced by her career as a designer and illustrator, we found her love for nature (especially ornithology) juxtaposed with human beauty. This piece, which she painted during Upfest 2016 together with her husband and fellow artist Copyright (who painted the right side of the work), shows her experiments with patterns and the powerful way that she expresses fragility and the coexistence of life and death.
This is one of my favourite walls from Upfest 2016! Titled ‘Bad apple’, it shows Goin’s punk and subversive style. The artist depicted a rebel Snow White holding a grenade in her hands as if it were the classic red apple, with her face covered up with a bandana on which is written “destroy pictures” in the trademark Disney lettering. Resident artist for ‘Abode du Chaos’, a former post house turned open-air contemporary art museum in Stain-Romain-au-mont-d’Or (Lyon), his denunciatory art is militant-powered.
Spotting Gregos’ colourful masks has become one of my favourite activities while travelling. After a first period as a graffiti writer, Gregos began experimenting first with sculpture and then with oil painting, eventually coming up with the idea of those humorous casts of his face that you can spot in several cities around the world, including Bristol and –of course- his hometown, Paris.
In his hometown of Bristol, Inkie is as much a legend as Banksy, with whom he began hitting the streets back in the 1980s. His style is a mix of graffiti and figurative imagery, often inspired by art-nouveau, tattoo art, Mayan architecture and Islamic geometry.
During Upfest 2015 he painted a female figure hanging from the top of the Redpoint climbing centre, while for Upfest 2016 he did a piece together with fellow street artist Boe –a regular collaborator- featuring this brave little mouse challenging a cat. As a duo, they often depict animals as metaphors for people’s behaviour and relationships.
JODY THOMAS (UK)
Despite the fact that his graffiti-inspired early pieces are scattered all around Bristol, this artist was the ‘revelation’ of Upfest 2016. Chatting with other street artists and fellow street art bloggers at the festival, everybody somehow ended up mentioning that huge geisha that was taking shape at the beginning of North Street. It wasn’t the first time that Jody, a Bristol-based aerosol artist, had taken part in Upfest either: last year, he did a huge hand dipping with black paint, which was one of my favourite pieces from the previous edition of the festival.
Jody began spray-painting at the age of 15 at the ‘infamous’ Barton Hill Youth Club, which is where most of Bristol’s street artists started out. He came back with his freehand, photorealistic pieces after an 18-year hiatus.
JOHN D’OH (UK)
This very active stencil artist from Bristol uses his quirky, tongue-in-check humour to highlight social and political issues. His work is influenced by the news, as well as by his love of film, hip-hop culture and media.
This is just one of the many works that can be spotted in Leonard’s Lane, a hidden alley in the city centre of Bristol that was brought to life through a street art project organized by the Centerspace art gallery, which is on that same alley. Jonesy is well known for his bronze sculptures, which are hidden yet in plain sight, such as high up on the top of street signs (I saw many in East London!) or on walls, like this dragon eating its own tail: it’s an ‘Ouroboro’, which was a mystical symbol of death and rebirth in India and Ancient Egypt.
Bristol is full of JPS’s stencils! My favourites are Spartacus and the thought-provoking ‘The big deal’, which depicts two cute kids dealing in money. JPS was hugely influenced by Banksy, but he eventually moved on developing a more detailed style of stencilling.
JUSTYNA BUDZYN (PL)
Still in Leonard’s Lane, I stumbled upon this ceramic work by the Polish artist Justyna Budzyn. She combines typography with colour and structure to surprise passers-by with abstract compositions conveying a clear message to the human seen as a ‘social animal’.
Laic is basically a graffiti artist, but he also does these iconic melting faces, which are scattered all around Bristol. His pieces are always bright, spray-painted and rubbery.
LEON KEER (NL)
At Upfest 2016, this pop-surrealist artist painted one of his unique 3D, anamorphic pieces in the courtyard of the Tobacco Factory. Measuring 40sq meters, ‘Empty hole’ depicts a little girl building sandcastles in a graveyard. I saw Leon creating it day after day: he uses a string, which is attached to the viewpoint, to sketch the vertical lines. He draws with chalks first and –when the sketch is done- he colours it with brushes.
LOUIS MASAI (UK)
Mindfully Rastafarian, Louis’ work is about environmental issues, focusing on endangered animal species, which are painted as if they were made of patchwork quilts. This Bristol piece –painted during Upfest 2016- aims at raising awareness of the plight of the African Rhino and also features his beloved bees (in this case, a honey bee and a bumble bee).
LUCAS ANTICS (UK)
I love, love, love this girl! Alex is a illustrator and an artist who is very active in Bristol, where you can spot a lot of her colourful, anthropomorphic animals on shutters, wooden gates, gas boxes, shipping containers and more.
Back in 2012, this Polish stencil artist arrived at the ‘See no evil’ festival. After 22 hours and 55 panels of stencil, he unveiled this huge piece inspired by Bristol’s industrial past.
Have you ever written the words “wash me” on the side of a dirty car? Paul Curtis (a.k.a. Moose) went one step further and launched the technique of ‘reverse graffiti’, which is done by removing dirt from a surface. On the walls of a former police station in the city centre, he used a jet washer on stencils to scrub off the dust of pollution and create this environmentally friendly mural depicting flowers and swallows.
MR. CENZ (UK)
From hip-hop and graffiti culture, London-based Mr. Cenz developed a distinctive style that focuses on female faces, which are distorted and abstracted in a freestyle way. His iconic translucent quality and the sci-fi, cosmic-fuelled style pervade this Bristol piece, which was painted during Upfest 2015.
MR. JUNE (NL)
By combining his love for typography, graphic design, graffiti and abstract art, the Dutch street artist David Louf (a.k.a. Mr. June) created his distinctive style, which is colourful and multidimensional. This huge mural was made during Upfest 2016, covering –ahem- Dan Kitchener’s stunning geisha. But that’s the Upfest law…
Daniel Sparkes (a.k.a. Mudwig) mixes the everyday with the fantastical to unravel man’s difficult relationship with nature. His style, which is known as comic abstraction, is made of cartoonish characters interacting with more realistic images, but in this piece -which was painted in 2014 together with Eko and Paris- the realistic part is absent.
MY DOG SIGHS (UK)
His style is melancholic and often naïve, yet colourful and fun. He has some recurring themes, such as the close-ups of eyes, the ‘hugs guy’, the hand-painted recycled cans, and –my favourite- the three-dimensional water drops. As the founder of the project ‘Free Art Friday’, he left free-to-take artworks in the streets every Friday for ten years, a project that was so successful that it spread into a global artistic movement. This huge ‘hugs’ character was made in 2015 and, luckily, it hasn’t been painted over yet.
NICK WALKER (UK)
In his hometown, the legendary Nick Walker painted what quickly became a landmark of Bristol: ‘The Vandal’ is a banker-like figure dropping some paint on the city at his feet (although the feet of the subject are not depicted). Speaking against the financial crisis, his ‘Vandal Character’ storyline spread all over the world, from Stavanger to New York City.
“Are you the one who made the post with all the street art in Lisbon?”
“So are you the one writing that this guy probably has a big ego?”
“We need to have a talk about this.”
Eventually, we had the talk. After lecturing me about the difference between street art and graffiti (come on!!!), Odeith opened up and told me about his constant learning process on what made him popular in the graffiti world: anamorphic art. As a self-taught artist, Odeith is always wandering around the outskirts of Lisbon looking for an abandoned factory where he can ‘practice’ his technique, pushing himself forward by experimenting with new things. His latest experimental field has been the interaction with light, although when he takes part in street art festivals he usually sticks with a more figurative style, as he did at Upfest 2016. His first piece in Bristol depicts Benny Hill, from the show he used to watch when he was a child and that stuck in his mind as ‘quintessentially English’. His intention was to make people laugh, but also be provocative: that’s why Benny Hill is saying “Goodbye Europe”.
No need to say that, with Brexit just around the corner, it was the most photographed mural in Bristol. I asked him what he would vote if the same referendum took place in Portugal: “It would be better if Europe had never existed, I prefer the way things were before. But leaving Europe now -when we are part of it and we have euros as well (England never had euros)- would be insane: the economic situation of Portugal could only get worse after that.” He also told me that, although this was his first time in Bristol, he had lived in London for many years, running a tattoo studio. By the end of the interview, he kind of convinced me that he his not as egocentric as I had assumed. In fact, he is just a fun guy with a contagious laugh.
Affectionately nicknamed ‘Tsunami’ by residents, this piece is actually a combination of works by different artists overpainting each other. Phlegm originally painted on this house in Stokes Croft in 2008 but, in 2009, the crew MM13 covered his piece with this huge, bright-red wave. Then Phlegm came back in July 2009 to add his trademark characters to the wave.
This huge piece is one of my favourites from Upfest 2016, and I’m already sorry that it will be gone next summer. I witnessed the whole making-of process, from the bubble letter throw-ups to the shaping of the classical, Greek-God-like figure. The guys are laid-back and always smiling, and seeing them at work was very interesting.
I love this mechanical bird, the only piece in Bristol by an Italian artist, which was painted in 2012 for the ‘See no evil’ festival. Once again, the artist portrayed one of his mythological, robotic animals, which is now one of the landmarks of the city.
Well, technically Run is an Italian artist too, but he has been based in the UK for so long as to be considered an English artist by most. In his pieces, which are inspired by anthropology and the human form, we often find hands and faces turned into playful characters.
This local artist eagerly stands out from the legendary graffiti scene of his city. He paints surrealist, rubbery characters on bright backgrounds, and his style is always quirky and humorous.
He is also the author of my favourite mural in Stokes Croft: the one saying “Think local, boycott Tesco”, which sums up the independent spirit of the hood and Stokes Croft’s pride in its local shops.
I was excited to meet Shok-1 during Upfest 2016, even more so when I figured out that his piece would become a great addition to my unicorn hunt. In his unique style, which is inspired by X-rays, he painted a glowing, translucent unicorn skull, adorned with his iconic fluorescence and rainbow effects -as a tribute to the city of unicorns.
SOKAR UNO (D)
He is a self-taught artist who usually paints illustrative-realistic human beings as if they were oxidized bronze statues. But the core of the artwork is never the human figure itself, rather a mood, a feeling or an emotion, which are depicted through the posture and the expression of the subject. This makes every piece very expressive and powerful, and somehow timeless.
This local stencil artist is very active throughout the city. His stencils are life-size, and their subjects range from animals (which are part of his popular series ‘A to Z of indigenous British animals’) to British cult icons, including the Bristol icon of DJ Derek, a 74-year-old reggae DJ now deceased.
He is known for painting large, black-and-white stick figures, which might seem amateurish but -to me- are just simple and pure, perhaps even lost, melancholic, insecure or fragile, since through their body language they convey the strongest emotions perfectly.
Bringing Bogota to Bristol, his colourful, one-layer stencilled portraits on vibrant abstract backgrounds are now among the most popular murals in the city.
The first one was painted in 2012; it depicts an African girl and it quickly became the landmark of Stokes Croft, generating an overabundance of t-shirts and other stuff. The second, titled ‘Taj Mahal Girl’ and depicting an Indian girl, was painted in 2015 on Mina Road.
SWEET TOOF (UK)
As a reminder of the transience and vanity of life, his signature representations of mouth, teeth and gums are scattered all around Bristol, recalling the Mexican celebration of skull imagery to accept and honour death as part of life. His mouths and skulls are often paired with Rowdy’s cartoonish crocodiles, such as on the building of The Star & Garter Pub or on the derelict building in Stokes Croft.
TATS CRU (US)
Below Nick Walker’s vandal, Bronx’s legendary Tats Cru realized a huge group self-portrait quoting the famous picture of New York construction workers (lunch atop a skyscraper). They came to Bristol in 2011 for the ‘See no evil’ festival.
His simple and cute stencils are scattered all around London, but I spotted a few in Bristol too. My favourite is this bubble-gum boy, since it was just behind my place and I became attached to it.
This guy is always exploring different genres, from graffiti to street art, as you can see from these two pictures.
The bottom one was taken during Upfest 2016, while the artist was working at his ribbon-effect, swirling ‘Bristol’ piece, which quickly established itself as the ‘featured piece’ of the festival.
WINGED FOX (CH)
Tina was the first friend I made in Bristol, and she happened to be a street artist! Originally from Switzerland, she moved to Bristol to pursue her dream of working in animation. On the streets, she paints colourful, pastel-shade murals inspired by animals and natural landscapes.
This piece in St. Pauls was painted together with fellow graffiti artist Dekor. It depicts a lion, the Bristol Suspension Bridge and several human figures, among whom Zase’s son (the only coloured figure) holding a swirling, red-and-white ‘Zase’ tag. Zase is also the author of the pink flamingo standing in the courtyard of The Port Call pub.
This is the only figurative piece by the very prolific graffiti writer, Zesk, that I spotted in Bristol. I like the tattoo-ish style and the art-nouveau flower theme, and I hope he does more figurative pieces in the future.
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Check out these stunning murals in my Bristol videos: