I have had the pleasure of calling Bristol my home for each and every of my relatively short 24-years on this planet. During this time I have become a strong enthusiast of the artistic culture this vibrant city has to offer. Take a walk through any suburb or area of central Bristol and you will not be hard pushed to locate a piece of urban street art. Despite this admiration, my recent experiences have somewhat broadened my outlook and understanding of the trials and tribulations a graffiti artist must face when practicing their work in this concrete jungle. Wild Times takes you out for a night on the streets with Will, a remarkably talented artist who has been designing and practicing stenciled graffiti for the majority of his adult life.
The night begins with skeptical consideration into a suitable location. It has been nearly six months since Will’s last attempt at spraying in a public area and another night in the cells will surely lead to harsher consequences than before. Cameras, cars, police and pedestrians, all everyday components of this urban environment that must be avoided by the graffiti artist if he is to have any chance of succeeding with his perilous task.
A long-term resident of the St Paul’s area of central Bristol, Will is surrounded by countless examples of talented street artists. Take a walk past the multi-cultural shops of Stoke’s Croft, through the everyday bustle of city centre’s Nelson Street or the quiet, novel streets of St Werburgh’s to begin your lesson into the colourful and infinitely expressive language of graffiti. Since the rise of the subway artists of New York’s emerging Hip Hop culture of the late 1970s, the expansion of graffiti has helped bring culture and variation to the monotonous, dreary and sometimes impoverished areas of our world’s cities.
Will decides on his canvas. Beneath the railway tracks of St Werburgh’s lies a long, spacious underpass. As cars and pedestrians pass underneath the trains, the tunnel sits in silent acceptance of its increasing collection of graffiti art. Past experiences in the area puts Will in the firm mindset that this is a safe and regular location for artists to practice their work.
Despite his ease, Will is patient.
Patient as the sun slowly sets.
Patient as the evening’s busy traffic dwindles.
Will waits as local residents conclude their nightly routines
and the streets begin their nocturnal transformation into tranquility.
When he finally embarks on tonight’s venture the streets are a different place, as he begins his brisk pace through the dark, deserted streets of St Paul’s he knows his canvas is ready. With his face concealed by his hooded black jumper Will navigates the streets like a lone shadow, searching for his place in this deserted city. While the clock progresses into the early hours of tomorrow, Will’s night is just beginning.
When he enters the tunnel Will departs from the gloomy shadows of the abandoned street and transitions into the brightly-lit, concrete canvas of numerous artists before him. Graffiti extends up either side of the passageway like some sort of man-made form of the crawling ivy plant, slowly conquering the walls for living space as either side attempts to meet on the ceiling. Bold statements, discreet tags, strange faces and unfamiliar creatures are just some of the fantastic designs that reside in the tunnel.
The stencil and the spray can are Will’s sole instruments of illustration. A small breach in wall space near the floor is a good enough place to begin. Will places his bag on the cold ground with a loud clatter as his canned selection of colours shuffle with anticipation of their impending release.
The tunnel remains silent as Will begins. The stencil is made up of numerous layers and each one must be applied with care if he is to finish with a quality end product.
The first layer is mounted on the wall. Orange and whites are sprayed in what appears to be a random and thoughtless manner, but Will has thought about this long and hard before even considering spraying out on the streets. His critical planning and precision in the design and cutting of the cardboard stencil ensures that at this stage, his biggest concern is the order he places each layer on the wall.
The second layer is attached. Additional whites add some of the finer details to the body of the unidentified image. The hollow tunnel echoes with the shake and rattle of the spray can as Will’s work continues.
The third and final layer now. Black is added to complete the contrast and definition of the piece. The legs, the eyes and the outline finally reveal the familiar identity of this new addition to the urban canvas.
A fox, gently carrying a child’s rag doll in its jaws as if it were transporting one of its own nurtured cubs, another addition to Bristol’s graffiti art.
Will’s latest work represents the intimate connection between humans and animals that share these urban environments. While the topic may incite conflict and controversy it also brings pleasure and satisfaction to many admirers. The graffiti artist finds he shares much in common with the fox; he too has long battled against the conflicting opinions of acceptance and condemnation. With the power to bring so much attraction to a world of ever-expanding cities can we truly accept living without wildlife and the colourful expression of street art? Will we truly be content with a concrete jungle without the variation of the natural wonders of wildlife adaptation and the creative illustrations of street artists?
Will’s stencil is complete, his message stands firmly in place with hundreds more. He has stuck by his codes and accomplished his errand. As he departs from the tunnel the bright lights begin to fade, Will moves back into the street lit shadows of a nocturnal city to begin his journey home. Behind him the tunnel waits, as it always has, ready to share its latest addition to passers-by as Bristol once again stirs to the coming of dawn.