Banksy and his contemporaries
There’s no surprise that Bristol welcomes a pretty varied and diverse blend of visitors. Not only does it have an intriguing historical past to discover, but its present-day is just as mesmerising too.
It’s incredible how the presence of urban street art within a town or city really gives an eclectic twist on a location. You feel that strolling amongst the animated streets and lanes of Bristol, their heart and soul is characterised in the tiniest of corners or on the face of lofty tower blocks.
Either way, each individual artist is revealing an insight into their inner thoughts, fears, dreams, anxieties, or aspirations. For me, they are all worthy of your admiration and a moment of your time.
Bristol’s most famed street artist is undoubtedly the talented Banksy. However, there are so many other thought-provoking artists that you’ll love.
Hop on a bus or jump on a train, and you’ll discover Bristol’s graffiti coursing through its veins.
How to get to Bristol
- By Train
The nearest mainline railway station is Bristol Temple Meads. Hop-off here and explore the city at your leisure.
- By Foot
A great place to start is Bristol city centre; discover the city on foot to get an inspiring face-to-face experience of the vibrant street art.
‘Where the Wall’ self-guided street art tour“A Piece Of…Banksy!”
We were gifted from Where the Wall access to a 24-hour self-guided street art walking tour during our visit to Bristol. I was so pleased, as I love street art, and as I sit here writing this article, I’m looking at a framed cardboard stencil on my wall by ‘Jef Aérosol’. A bit of indulgence, I know, but it puts a smile upon my face every time I look at it.
The 13 audio commentaries are narrated by Banksy’s mentor John Nation. John gave a fascinating insight into each piece of artwork and the stories and inspiration behind them.
I’ve added some additional intriguing street art that we found along the way as there is so much depth to Bristol’s talented individuals.
Banksy Artwork in BristolHere are a few that have survived
The Mild Mild WestStokes Croft, Bristol
Let’s start with The Mild Mild West, one of Banksy’s iconic pieces created in the summer of 1999, formerly painted on the side of Subway Records in Stokes Croft, owned by a friend of Banksy’s, Jim Paine.
The Mild Mild West sits high on a wall along Stokes Croft at the junction by Turbo Island and Jamaica Street.
The piece was painted over three days and had a mix of styles, including the name Banksy in his trademark stencilling. However, the main characters are a teddy bear about to throw a Molotov cocktail at three policemen in riot gear. It is thought that the image depicts the two sides of people from Bristol, firstly when they can be fluffy and friendly but also, they can have a rebellious side.
The Grim ReaperM Shed, Bristol
In 2003 Banksy rowed across Bristol harbour under darkness to the ship ‘Thekla’, a live music venue and moored along Bristol quayside.
The original stencil said ‘BANKSY’, as this was illegal graffiti, the council ordered the harbourmaster to remove the work. The owners of Thekla stated this was an act of vandalism that it was removed.
Once again, Banksy rowed out to the Thekla and this time painted the ‘Grim Reaper’ on the side of the ship sitting in a rowing boat.
Girl with the Pierced EardrumHanover Place, Bristol
The ‘Girl with the Pierced Eardrum’ was painted in 2014. It is a parody of the famous artwork by the Dutch artist Vermeer, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. The location is in an isolated alleyway by Hanover Place at the back of SS Great Britain.
Banksy’s image utilises a yellow security alarm on the wall, and the placement of his work positions the alarm on the earlobe. I must admit this is one of my favourite pieces by Banksy.
The artwork appeared within hours of being rumoured that Banksy had been detained and his identity would be revealed. Needless to say, that was a hoax.
Paint Pot AngelInside the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
The Paint Pot Angel is on display at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
The piece was commissioned by Banksy for his 2009 exhibition entitled ‘Banksy vs Bristol Museum’. Banksy more or less took over the museum displaying over 80 original Banksy artworks, installations and sculptures.
The immersive experience attracted over 350,000 visitors during the six-week run from all over the world. The average queuing time was around 4 hours.
Castles in the SkyLower Lamb Street, Bristol
This next unassuming and simplistic Banksy work was painted in 2011 and reads ‘YOU DON’T NEED PLANNING PERMISSION TO BUILD CASTLES IN THE SKY’.
The location is above a loading bay on the side of Bristol Central Library along the quiet Lower Lamb Street. The position of this stencil is thought to have been chosen by Banksy as he was educated as a child in the nearby Bristol Cathedral School.
Pulling the PlugCollege Green, Bristol
A former work by Banksy, ’ Pulling the Plug’, was illegally painted in 2001 on the Bristol City Council Head Office, in front of its water feature.
It was Banksy’s first piece painted in an exposed and risky location and depicted a deep-sea diver with a huge plug in his hand. It is believed to indicate that Banksy was pulling the plug on the council’s graffiti clean-up team. The image only lasted around six hours before it was removed by the Bristol council.
Well Hung LoverPark Street, Bristol
Nearby ‘Pulling the Plug’ is the location of ‘Well Hung Lover’.
Banksy painted this stencil illegally in the summer of 2006 in another risky location, as it’s at the eye-level view from the bridge along Park Street. Banksy had friends within the construction industry. Its believed that scaffolding and a platform were erected with a black mesh around for protection. It would have appeared harmless to most passers-by, and it gave Banksy the privacy and anonymity he needed.
The image shows a suited man looking out of a window for his partner’s secret lover, hanging naked from the windowsill below.
Where to stay in Bristol
‘Welcome to Bristol’ by Tats CruQuay Street, Bristol
Nick Walker’s iconic bowler-hatted vandalQuay Street, Bristol
This piece of urban art was produced by Nick Walker, one of the world’s best-known street artists. Nick was born in Bristol in 1969 and was a forerunner in the Bristol graffiti scene from the early 80s.
Nick often includes a bowler-hatted gentleman in a pinstripe suit. This giant mural was created for the “See no Evil” event in 2011 along Nelson Street/Quay Street. The unmissable mural stretches high on the side of an otherwise dull grey tower block.
Nick Walker also produced the ‘Moona Lisa’ in 2006, where he spray-painted the Mona Lisa cheekily doing a moonie. Today a life-size bronze sculpture created by the artist is at the Vanguard exhibition in the M Shed.
Striking mural by AryzNelson Street, Bristol
Aryz is a Spanish artist and illustrator known for his large-scale murals, he was invited to the “See No Evil” event in 2011. This vast piece of art is spray-painted on the side of a five-storey building along Nelson Street.
This work is of an unusual looking wolf or dog; it’s your guess, jumping in the air while wearing a check shirt and bow tie. Incredibly It took Aryz just one day to produce it.
‘Let it Bloom’ by JodyCharlotte Street, Bristol
This beautiful piece of art was created by Jody, also known as Jody Thomas.
Jody was a significant presence in the graffiti art scene in Bristol during the late 1980s and was creating stencils 10 years prior to Banksy’s arrival. During his younger days, Jody was a regular at the Barton Hill Youth Centre an art project set up by John Nation. This project allowed youngsters to be creative in ways that were frowned upon by the local council.
Jody is a highly respected artist and also a bit of a perfectionist. ‘Let it Bloom’ was a 3-day commission by Florists UK in 2018. I love the vintage look of this piece and the muted-warm tones that blend with the weather-beaten wall.
‘Uncertain World’ by Alex LucasPark Row, Bristol
‘Uncertain World’ along Park Row was produced by local artist Alex Lucas. Alex, who is also known as Lucas Antics, created this mural in collaboration with the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute.
Alex’s design was inspired by the institutes’ Uncertain World research. She hoped that her artwork would encourage the public to ponder how different life could be. If there were greater levels of carbon dioxide in the air and higher sea levels.
More inspiring street artistsToo many to mention
Mariusz Waras, also known as M-City, is a Polish stencil artist. He produced this massive piece of artwork inspired by Bristol’s industrial past. It can be spotted next to Nick Walker’s bowler-hatted vandal along Nelson Street.
This piece was created for the See No Evil festival in 2012.
Conor Harrington is an Irish artist born in Cork now living in London. He created this striking artwork in Broad Street “The Duel of Bristol’ for the See No Evil festival in 2012.
Conor has an incredible style in depicting almost realistic classical characters, blurred amongst dark and ethereal backgrounds. It brings an elegant blend of mystery and intrigue and presents you with many questions.
Little is known of the artist behind this stencil of Queen Elizabeth II nor the story or background of the image on Upper Maudlin Street.
It was painted in the summer of 2012, which was the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s succession to the throne. However, the Ziggy flash across the Queen’s face was also attributed to the 40th anniversary of the release of the David Bowie album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Initially, it was believed to be by Banksy due to a previous stencil image of ‘Police Sniper’ by Banksy in the exact same location. That stencil was defaced by another street artist King Robbo who Banksy had an ongoing feud.
In fact, the artwork is by Inkwell, but as mentioned, this artist is surrounded by mystery.
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