Graffiti gets the star treatment in Bristol

Miguel Cullen reviews the biggest graffiti event in recent history
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The Independent Culture

Taki disguises the identity of two masters of the written script, at polar opposite ends of the social worlds. One writes about duchesses of his acquaintance in The Spectator column ‘High Life’, one wrote his name, ‘TAKI 183’ on a subway train in New York City for the first time in 1971, in strict fact copying his Harlem confederate JULIO 204, but in broad history becoming the first graffiti artist of the 20th Century.

Graffiti artist BG 183, who came to Bristol this month, takes his name from Taki’s tag, possibly hailing from the same street in the south Bronx as his forbear, and, like him, quarantining his skill within his gang-studded borough for only a while, before going ‘all-city’; or in the case of this visit to Bristol’s See No Evil street art event, ‘all-world’.

Bristol’s most identifiable graffiti artist is Banksy, whose faded stencils could still a few years past be found unintroduced on the quiet sunny streets bordering Clifton College near the centre of town; other London fans of street art may be familiar with the Bristol-born Sickboy, whose pieces in the streets around the Hackney Road and the Victoria Park stretch of the Regents Canal are all blooming with colour and signed off with a crooked crown. 3D’s work is imbued with the glamour of his later career with Massive Attack, yet has always earned its own respect. Stars with a more local notoriety yet with the full love of the graffiti community are Nick Walker and a singular individual called Inkie.

Inkie - who graffiti and drum & bass legend Goldie holds as an all-time hero - helped organize the spectacular open-air street art exhibition this week, which reinvigorated the tired cement-walled thoroughfare of Nelson Street in the very centre of Bristol, a bleak stretch that has the juvenile and magistrates’ court on one end, and the police station at the other. “A lot of the artists who painted today were arrested in that police station. Painting over the street is like painting over the past. I was arraigned in that Magistrates’ Court loads of times for my graffiti when I was 18.” Inkie is now 40, and is making a good living out of the global appreciation for his graffiti.

When he went to Bristol City Council with the proposition to turn Nelson Street into a walk-through graffiti mural, he had impressive antecedents. 900,000 people visited Banksy’s 2009 Bristol exhibition, and Melbourne’s graffiti attracts 250,000 people to one small street.

Graffiti in Bristol has a long history – Massive Attack’s 3D, speaking to The Independent, joked: “Just because I was the first kid in Bristol to get up with a spray can back in 1983.. I absolutely refuse to take all the blame for this outstanding event!” 3D, author of ‘the tenth best song of all time’ [ The Guardian] notwithstanding, still went out with his New York’s Bio to paint through the night that weekend in Bristol’s Jamaica Street. Nick Walker was author of perhaps the most striking piece at the event, a 20-metre mural on the front of a tower block, of a sinister man in a black bowler hat dripping a bucket of red paint over the cement.

The walls lining this street are now covered in ‘pieces’ [terminology for a labour-intensive piece short for ‘masterpiece’] from a whale wrapped in a colour-bombed scarf covering a concrete walkway across the street by Limited Press to the best piece, in The Independent’s opinion; a slate, serrated-shard design going up a diagonal stair well which, in accuracy of outline and knife-edge definition, made special. Hats off to O Two for this.

3D would vie for position with artists like Inkie in the 80s Bristol scene and would sometimes have his famous tags [one of which was ‘It’s No Great Crime’, pictured] defaced by rivals. Inkie is responsible for the biggest piece in the history of Bristol graff, a long worded piece reading ‘The drastic adventures of the FBI Crew and AMFM’. The FBI Crew were a big local hip hop crew and AMFM was a reference to the boogie record by Natasha King of the same name.

After the long day’s party, the night ended in Blue Mountain, a club in Stoke’s Croft a once-humble area now in the throes of regeneration, near the street where 3D had that night relived his childhood painting a wall. A drunken group of teenagers passes us on the hill, the girls sipping out of a bottle as a boy in their group with his hood up leans down low and tags under a window without breaking step; the girls barely notice; it looks like graffiti’s under Bristol’s skin, and now they’ve finally made it acceptable too.