It was a real pleasure to find myself in the company of so many great Bristol artists at the 25 year anniversary celebrations at the Tobacco Factory, and none more so than Pelmo, whose work I have admired for some time. It was nice to meet him for the first time and to find out a little bit about how he likes to work.
In creating this piece, featuring one of his outsized characters, he had decided to abandon his spray cans on environmental grounds and use paint and brushes, which was a first for him on a wall. Set in a skyscraper landscape, the large gentleman is posing with a ballet dancer, and there is an interesting and rather sad synergy between the two of them. I like the piece very much, but I wonder if the large amount of white space works on this scale.
We live in curious times. In the UK we have been enduring an insane paralysis brought about by Brexit, something that has irreversibly divided the nation. In the United States, the most powerful man in the world, President Donald Trump, sets an uneasy tone which resonates globally as his uncompromising ‘business man’ approach to politics destabilises all around him in his efforts to deliver an America first agenda. And yet all this pales into insignificance in the light of two of the most pressing issues in human history… climate change and biodiversity loss.
In such moments unlikely heroes arise, and none more unlikely than sixteen year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg. This incredible painting by Bristol’s Jody, part of Upfest’s Summer Editions programme, is a worthy tribute to a young girl whose voice speaks for millions and whose direct messages have contributed to a change in how governments listen to this narrative. Of course listening and acting are two different things, but Greta seems to be in no mood to stop campaigning just yet.
Jody, Upfest, Tobacco Factory, Bristol, May 2019
Jody, Upfest, Tobacco Factory, Bristol, May 2019
Jody spent a couple of weeks creating this piece and I saw him on a few occasions while he was painting it. We chatted briefly, and I was rather pleased to find out that he has read some of my posts on Natural Adventures. He said that my reviews of his work were kind, and I rather foolishly said that I was kind to everyone, which then made me feel like I was saying that his work was not special. Well let’s put that straight right now… his work is exceptional and of the highest quality and this will I’m sure become an Iconic image of Greta. I believe that pictures and stories about it have already gone global.
It is funny how Greta Thunberg has become a world leader in taking these issues to governments and citizens and bringing climate change up the agenda. Of course, other campaigners have been banging on about this for decades, but somehow her arrival and campaigning came just at the right time, following huge public opinion shifts around the issue of single use plastics, themselves probably prompted by the amazing work of the BBC and Blue Planet 2 and of course Sir David Attenborough.
We have reached a crossroads, and nations must decide how they are going to meet the challenges of Climate change and biodiversity loss. I would say at this point (and I apologise for pointing this out) that there is a strong correlation between Brexiteers and Trumpists (small ‘c’ conservatives) and climate change denial/apathy or even charges of conspiracy. What these people have not registered or acknowledged is that climate change and biodiversity loss will not discriminate against those people they impact upon, nobody will be immune.
We will all lose unless something is done. Large businesses and their shareholders will lose money and maybe collapse; coastal cities and towns will become battered by increasing frequency of storms and rising sea levels; insurance companies will struggle to operate models that can cope with the claims made; more people will go hungry as crops ruin, trade collapses and selfishness protects the rich.
A bleak future for all of us, and the ‘flat earthers’ who don’t want to face up to these challenges put all of us at risk by their deliberating and self-protection. Fools. Look no further than the man-made islands in Dubai and the most fantastic monuments to human folly – built on funds from fossil fuels, these islands will inundate as sea levels rise. You couldn’t make it up.
Here endeth the rant.
I thank Upfest for making this happen. I thank Jody for choosing to paint this outstanding piece. I thank Greta Thunberg for giving me hope and inspiration. I have dedicated my life to the environment personally and professionally and at last I feel we might be approaching a tipping point where public opinion influences public policy.
Let’s hope that this iconic piece and iconic young woman continue to inspire us all (even those who disagree with their message, in fact especially those who disagree with their message).
Two weekends ago there was a special event held at the Tobacco Factory to celebrate 25 years since becoming a Bristol arts venue. As part of those celebrations the Tobacco Factory teamed up with Upfest who organised some artists to paint the car park walls under the Summer Editions banner. A firm favourite for such events is the wonderful Alex Lucas who painted this gorgeous piece.
Entitled ‘Pipe peace’ the illustration is based on a particular type of smoking pipe, used by a number of Native American cultures in their sacred ceremonies (so Alex tells us in her Instagram feed). I guess the link is tobacco.
The pipe reminds me that one of my closest friends at school, and indeed a next door neighbour, had a peace pipe in his house which belonged to his father. His father was an illustrator of children’s books, all of which were Native American stories, brought to life with the most extraordinarily detailed drawings using Rotring ink pens. I loved the books he created and the illustrations were sublime. His name was Paul Goble and I was always full of admiration of his work. I just read on the Wikipedia page that he passed away in 2017, which has made me feel very sad indeed. I digress…
Alex was very busy with her work when I went to the 25th anniversary celebrations, and I had my dog with me, so I wasn’t really able to have a chat, especially as my dog might have upset her dog which was in the crate next to her. I really like this piece, the lines are so clean and the simple four colours work so well together, a little reminiscent of the Dr Seuss illustrative style. Definitely worth a trip.
One of the more unusual pieces at Upfest 2018 was this absolutely wonderful tile installation on the gates of the Tobacco Factory by Chinagirl Tile. As the years go by, her work becomes more and more ambitious, and this ceramic Giraffe is certainly the largest work I have seen from this Austrian (international) artist.
The incredible giraffe is entitled ‘it’s a zoo up there’ was funded by the Austrian Cultural Forum London and BMEIA, and that got me thinking that her work must be rather expensive to produce and that funding and sponsorship must be an important factor in her ability to work. spray can artists probably don’t have the same kind of overheads.
Unfortunately I don’t think I have been able to do this piece justice, mainly because when I took the pictures, the sun was directly behind it. I think this is a wall that needs photographing early in the morning or in the evening. If you look closely, you can see the individual tile sections that are placed together to make the whole. I guess this is for ease of modelling and firing as well as transportation.
Another unusual feature of this piece is that the head of the giraffe is 3 dimensional, not a flat tile that one expects from Chinagirl Tile. I really love her work and am proud that she has chosen Bristol to play host to several of her pieces over recent years.
Unconscious bias is a curious beast, but it lurks in each of us in one form or another. One expression of it in me is the assumption that street artists are male unless they are not…if you see what I mean. I have made some terrible gender assumptions in the past with T-Rex, Skor85 to name just two, and so it was with Zabou. I have seen her work in London, but automatically thought she was a he. How glad I was to actually see Zabou at work during Upfest and to be able to write this post without falling in to the trap of gender assumption.
To their credit, the organisers of Upfest do not ask for the artist’s gender on the application forms for entry and so never quite know what the gender mix will be at the festival…this year it was about 35% female artists, which, in what we consider to be a male dominated arena, is very encouraging indeed.
This piece by Zabou, originally from France, but now operating out of London, is a stunning portrait beautifully executed, and it is really interesting to see from these pictures how the layers build up to give the final whole.
I love the little sprays of colour on the hand, fingers and face of the subject – it is these little details that bring works like this to life. I really love the portrait, and wish I had been able to find a little bit of time to speak to Zabou, but the festival is large and the days short. Maybe next time.
Every year in May, Stephen Quick organises a live paint jam at the Tobacco Factory Sunday market and invites along a bunch of friends to paint with him. Somehow I managed to miss it this year, which is a pity, but I did manage to get down eventually to see the results.
This is a fabulous multi-layered stencil from Lemak who creates these incredible pop-culture pieces. This one is of the legendary Jean-Michel Basquiat whose place in street art history is hugely significant. The crowns around the piece honour the subject as the king. Crowns denote the respect in which a particular artist is held and tend to be reserved for the upper echelons of the street graffiti/art scene.
It is a while since I last saw a new piece from Lemak (I think he has been busy in his studio) so it was great to see this one. The quality of his work is really out of the top drawer.
I’m not too sure when Gregos came to Bristol, but I have a feeling it might have been for Upfest 2015. There are only one or two of his face masks that remain in the city. I took this picture in 2016, and to be honest I’ve not checked to see if it is still there.
His masks adorn walls all around Europe and beyond, and it is always a pleasure to come across one. These haunting masks retain so much detail from the original mould and you can see wrinkles and eyelashes. His expressions vary from mask to mask, and with all installation artists location is critical. Gregos is the king of this style of street art.