By Sam Rkaina – exclusive
More than 20 of the world’s most successful street artists will be painting almost every building in Nelson Street with huge murals in a bid to create Bristol’s next major tourist attraction.
Organisers say it will be the biggest permanent street art project in Europe, the biggest project of its kind in the UK and feature some of the largest individual pieces of art in the world.
Buildings more than 50ft high will be repainted with some of the largest murals in Bristol to create a “graffiti street” – with many staying up for at least a year and potentially on a permanent basis.
A similar project in Melbourne, Australia, is now one of the city’s top attractions, bringing in an estimated 450,000 visitors a year and money into the local economy.
Organisers hope that Bristol’s version – See No Evil – will be the biggest local art event since Banksy took over the Museum of Bristol two years ago, which itself gave a massive boost to the city.
The road will be closed for a weekend in August in the hope of attracting thousands of people to help regenerate what is a run down part of the centre.
Artists from across the globe are set to take part, including LA, New York and Chile.
They will join big names from Bristol’s graffiti scene, including Nick Walker who has worked with likes of the director Stanley Kubrick.
One of the artists behind the project is Inkie, aka Tom Bingle. Tom is also Bristolian and has collaborated with Banksy on a number of occasions, although Banksy himself is not believed to be involved in this project.
So far six of the largest buildings in Nelson Street are confirmed to be repainted for See No Evil.
They include the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Unite building, 9 and 11 Quay Street, the Board Street high rise block and the overhead walkway opposite Trafalgar House.
The juvenile courts and police annexe are also to be repainted, but only on a temporary basis as they are due to be redeveloped in October.
Discussions are ongoing about including other buildings as well but the Church of St John the Baptist will not be included.
The road will be closed on Saturday, August 20 and 21 for a street party, with local traders opening street stalls, music and pop up bars on the ground floors of some of the vacant properties. There will also be workshops so people can learn more about the art form.
Nelson Street has capacity for up to 5,000 people at any one time, but if there are more than that then the other access points at Christmas Street and Broad Street will be closed off.
Visitors would then be let in at the Colston Avenue end of Nelson Street, and leave at Union Street.
Despite being one of the main walkways from the city centre and Harbourside area to Broadmead and Cabot Circus, Nelson Street has been in a poor state for a number of years.
Only a few shops remain open and the grey concrete and poor lighting make the area unappealing at night.
The building owners who have agreed to take part in the street art project hope See No Evil will go some way to changing that.
Tom said: “It’s the epitome of a concrete jungle, it’s like a 60s ghetto. It’s and area of grey drabness we want to add a massive splash of colour to.
“Ten years ago I did an event with Banksy called Walls on Fire at the docks.
“They were building the at-Bristol site at the time and it was the UK’s longest continuous wall.
“I wanted to redo that but bring the international focus back to Bristol.
“Bristol has always been at the forefront of graffiti – of the top 50 artists I’d say a quarter have come from Bristol.
“We’ve invited the cream of the cream to showcase international and Bristol talent.”
That includes El mac, who Tom describes as “one of the best large mural painters in the world”.
And some of the international artists even have a local connection, like the Tats Cru from the Bronx.
It will be the group’s first trip back to Bristol since 1985, when they worked with the Wild Bunch and Massive Attack.
With more than 30 artists involved, it won’t just be a free for all.
Space on the buildings will be matched to the style of individual painters, with some having vertical spots and others horizontal.
Inkie himself will be painting a large piece opposite the Lanes bowling alley in gold, in his distinctive style he calls “ink nouveau”.
Organisers plan to use the internet to promote the event, using YouTube footage of the work. They are also in talks with tablet manufacturers.
Artists chose the name “because it has a nice ring to it” but also because the event will celebrate one of Bristol’s other great artistic exports, music – which pairs up with the second part of the phrase “hear no evil”.
Tom said: “At the moment Bristol is being called the most creative city in the world for dance music.
“Even before Banksy picked up a spray can, Bristol was at the forefront of the street art scene.
“It is a school of excellence, and hopefully this will bring in the tourists as it has in Melbourne.
“The Banksy exhibition at the museum brought in something like £10 million to the local economy.
“If we can do even part of that then it will be all for the best.”
Tom wants the event to be a celebration of all things Bristol, even the colour.
He said: “We’re trying to promote Bristol blue, so hopefully some of the artists will go away and start using it.
“We’re looking into making up a spray can with the colour.
“This will have the biggest paintings ever done in the UK and I don’t think there’s another city that could have done it.”
The city council are putting in half of the £80,000 cost of setting up the art, with the other half coming from donations from elsewhere.
Building owners are onboard
SO far the owners of more than half a dozen of the biggest buildings in Nelson Street have agreed to take part in the project.
Like the organisers, they hope that a potentially high profile event that could attract attention from around the world will help regenerate what is a neglected corner of the city centre.
At 11 stories St Lawrence House, above the city cafe, is one of the largest buildings involved.
Managed by Newbridge Capital Investments it is home to a number of tenants who you would normally never associate with a spray can.
Spokesman Marcus Rooke said: “We have solicitors, the learning and skills council and others though there is some vacant space that is to let. We were approached by the organisers, and it certainly sounds very exciting.
“It looks like it will create a lot of interest.”
The company has agreed to allow a piece of artwork to be painted on the side that overlooks quay street, that can stay up for at least 12 months and potentially longer if the project is a success.
Mr Rooke said: “You can see if you walk down the street there are a few run down 60s buildings that aren’t occupied.
“Anything that would revitalise the street and increase footfall for a minimal cost then all the better.
“I believe another scheme in Melbourne is a big tourist attraction. If it happens in Bristol it can only benefit the area.”
Tats cru – New York
El Mac – Los Angeles
Neils ‘Shoe’ Meulman – Holland
Swanski – Poland
Wow 123 – Germany
Mr. Wany – Italy
Revert – France
Kashink – France
Otto Schnade – Chile
Smug – Australia
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