I’ve never really been a big fan of graffiti. Admittedly, most of the graffiti I’ve seen hasn’t been particularly artistic, more like profanities scrawled across the side of buildings or railway tracks. However, due to this fact I never really ‘got’ the concept of street art. Surely the phrase was just trying to make graffiti acceptable? However that was all before I first visited Bristol. As the home of Banksy, Bristol prides itself on its street art, and not just the work that Banksy has produced. It was for this very reason that I found myself going along to Upfest earlier this summer.
Upfest is Europe’s largest street art and graffiti festival and was the one festival in Bristol that it appeared that all of my colleagues were going to (bearing in mind we had just had the harbour festival, and the balloon festival was coming up). It seemed that this really was the one to go to. And I enjoyed it an awful lot more than I first thought I might. I think there were a few of reasons for this. Firstly, you were able to watch the artists in action, and it was really interesting to see the different works emerging. Secondly, the array of different styles was incredible. There were some that were more of the traditional graffiti style I would think of, but there were some that if I saw it in an art gallery would never have classed as graffiti. It was also really impressive to see the scale of some of the work. Those that needed cranes and scaffolding to produce must have required an incredible amount of planning!
It made me realise that I hadn’t really previously understood street art, or perhaps I had just been a bit of a snob. There were some seriously talented people at work and it was great being able to go round and admire it.
The festival wasn’t all street art – there were music performances and food stalls as well. There were also graffiti themed activities taking place during the day (although these were mainly aimed at children). The main street and certain areas were incredibly crowded, but the beauty of it being all along a certain stretch meant that you could walk along to a quieter spot.
I can see why people visit Upfest year on year – each year the street art is going to be completely different so you know that there will be something new to admire. However next year I’d be tempted to go just after the festival to admire the finished works and avoid the crowds, even though I did enjoy watching the artists at work.
I’m so glad you’re getting turned on to street art. I shared many of your reservations about the medium, but it’s such a great way to revitalize a neighborhood and democratize art: showcase it in a way that is interactive with the community and isn’t tucked off in a museum behind a purple rope.
I understand what you mean. I’ve always associated graffiti with vandalism but Street art is actually very different and has different aims. Like you I like how accessible it is.