“Have a shot every time someone tells you they know Banksy’, said a particularly sarcastic friend when I told her I was doing a day trip to Bristol on the way to a wedding on Devon. Bristolians are, rightfully so, very proud of their connection to the internationally recognised artist. He is arguably the only street artist to be a household name and like many fans of the medium, he was my first introduction to it.
Although his impact is felt across the world, I wouldn’t class myself as a fan of his style but had heard that his first ever pieces could be seen in Bristol’s most artistic quarter, Stokes Croft, so started my self-guided street art tour there. Amongst cosy terraces which themselves are in the shadow of multi-storey council flats is ‘Rose Trap’, a blink-and- you’ll-miss-it stencil protected by a small frame bought by the collaborative efforts of its neighbours. The landlady of the pub directly opposite came to tell us exactly what we’d been waiting for: ‘Banksy used to live in that flat. He’s one of my son’s best friends and he’s such a lovely man.”
As well as a big tick on the Bristol bingo card, she gave us a few hints on where else to find some lesser known murals nearby. Stokes Croft is proud to be a canvas for artists from all over the world; as soon as you walk from Bristol city centre into the neighbourhood you’re greeted by the galaxy-adorned Full Moon Backpackers Hostel introducing you to murals big and small scattered along almost every street. The area has even founded Stokes Croft Mural Co. in 2011 which offers a place for artists to show their work and bring love and colour to an area that has suffered with financial difficulties.
Some of the best street art in Bristol can be found here – opposite Banksy’s famous ‘Mild, Mild West’ is Cosmo Sarson‘s notorious 30ft ‘Breakdancing Jesus’; a beautiful lynx by ATM, an artist known for raising awareness of endangered animals, stalks the stairs along one of Bristol’s many, many hills (or was that just the heavy brunch I’d had beforehand?), and a beautiful piece by one of my favourite street artists, Phlegm, called ‘Tsunami of Roses’.
Walking back into town, this time in the direction of the Brandon area of town, our Banksy friend had a tipped us off that we could see a piece of his that isn’t in his usual style by the hospital. Lo and behold, the Queen with a a Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt across her face, created for around the Diamond Jubilee, and something that I’m sure has been printed onto a thousand Camden Market tote bags. A leisurely stroll took us down via independent stores and the wonderful Zerodegrees microbrewery and then back up up up another hill to Pinkman’s Bakery (all of which you can see in my 24 Hour Guide to Bristol) – the walk ticking off more art (including the famous ‘Hanged Man’ by…you guessed it) and my favourite unplanned spot of the day, ‘The Florist’ by Jody Thomas, the artist who created an amazing mural of Greta Thunberg a few months ago and focuses on photorealism.
Like any city who truly embraces street art, Bristol is full of little intermissions; those small pieces that are often walked straight past because they’re low down, hidden or tagged over. Right by my hotel I found ‘Happiness is Being Confidently Weird’ by D.F.T.E (a saying that I’ve kept with me ever since), the signature aliens of Qwert Art and a cheeky little rat by China Girl Tile (the founder of female street art festival Hands Off The Wall in Vienna). Thanks to an excellent Bristol street art guide by Where Goes Rose, we found the little alleyway of Leonard Lane which all my gut instincts would tell me to stay away from normally but is a little treasure trove of goodies. It’s predominantly smaller pieces and stencil work, many with a political slant and dotting every inch of wall space. You can spend a good half an hour just looking out for something new, and I’m sure it’s being added to all the time.
The way Bristol has embraced, grown and thrived with street art made me feel very at home. Every wall is a potential canvas and I didn’t even make it to south of the river to explore the North Street area where the annual Upfest street art festival is held.
Bristol, I will be back, and next time it’ll be for more than 24 hours.