Between the 27th and the 29th of September the city of Sunderland played host to a variety of artists painting on walls. I was privileged to be one of those ‘lucky few’. The event was organized by the director of Studio Q Mr Frank Styles with the assistance of a whole host of people including those at the Upfest gallery in Bristol who organize the main Upfest event.
This was all a bit of a surprise to myself having put myself forward to participate in a variety of events, I shall refrain from listing them here to save myself the depression that can come with a list of ones rejections… But needless to say i was most excited to take part in my first big art event. My biggest problem was that I had put myself forward with the expectation of being knocked back and thus had made zero plans or preparation. So the email I received telling me that I had not one but two, yes two, spots left me fairly breathless and nervous as all hell. Thankfully I was able to cadge a ride to Sunderland, living on the Wirral I was a bit out of the distance of local transport, from the brilliant Mr Silent Bill. Who I have to say was a true pleasure to be with all weekend and a kindred spirit in terms of sense of humour, what with his Wanker bars and Cunt cakes.
Upon arriving at the Studio the first task was to help Bill set up Silent Bills Drunken Fun House, the Secret Society Of Super Villain Artists opening night for the festival. It was a righteous event with Street Fighter set up on a projector, free beers, cake and chocolate. The two highlights of the opening event for me were watching Irony paint in the dark on a cherry picker by torch and van headlight, some true dedication there. Secondly was the drunken pillow fight outside the club, one which ended in a bit of stalemate after some of the pillows burst from the fierceness of the fighting! My night ended that night very drunkenly passing out on Frank Styles sofa bed, I would say sleeping but when you are that drunk…
Needless to say I did not drink for the rest of the weekend as I was stinkingly hung over the next morning. I did however rise early and get stuck in, as much as I could, with helping set up the boards for the days painting. Saturday is when it truly kicked off with many of the artists getting down to the business of painting, and it was a truly exceptional lineup. It was the Saturday morning that I painted the first of my pieces onto a 10 foot by 8 foot panel; Which was a full colour version of this. I will be the first to admit that my freehand can work still leaves a bit to be desired but I am non the less proud of this, which took only 2 hours from start to finish whilst more than a little delicate too. The reason for the rush was my second piece was a permanent one at a local pub, The Burton Arms. This was the one I really wanted to bring my A game to, the one I’d stressed the most about and the one that nearly drove me crazy cutting out.
As you can see from the photographs below the stencil piece is just a solid block of text, I say just I still had about ten words left to cut when I got to the pub! Getting to the pub I realised I’d have to rethink the design of my piece as it was originally intended to be quite different. The original composition was going to be a messy paint splashed anarchy flag, a square flag diagonally bisected from the bottom left to top right with the top triangle red and the bottom black with white text over the top. Once I got to the pub however I realised that it was not really the audience for that sort of thing, it was very much a traditional foot ball pub, Sunderland A.F.C. to be exact. So instead I swapped the colours around and replaced the background with a messy paint splashed red and white strip motif. At least it was easier for me to modify my design than my fellow stencil artist, The Stencil Shed, painting there who originally was going to do a simple Jackdaw stencil. Fearing that the locals might not be up on their ornithology and may mistake it for a magpie and lynch the poor fellow he had to add some text along side stating that “I am a Jackdaw not a magpie. Magpies cannot match.” I am extremely pleased to say that the locals who got to watch me work seemed happy with what I was painting on the pub and the landlord even offered me a free drink. An offer I politely, at least I hope I was polite, declined as at this point I was sorely in need of some food and I had run out of tobacco, an occasion similar to running out of water in Rub Al Khali!
The full quote for those having trouble reading it is as follows;
The personal, as everyone’s so fucking fond of saying, is political. So if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here – it is slow and cold, and it is theirs, hardware and soft-. Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide out from under with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it personal. Do as much damage as you can. Get your message across. That way you stand a far better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous, marks the difference – the only difference in their eyes – between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate. And time and again they cream your liquidation, your displacement, your torture and brutal execution with the ultimate insult that it’s just business, it’s politics, it’s the way of the world, it’s a tough life, and that it’s nothing personal. Well, fuck them. Make it personal.
- Quellcrist Falconer: Things I Should Have Learnt by Now, Volume II
After leaving the pub I took the opportunity to take a look around the other artists at work and have a natter with them. There was a lot of real talent going on the walls around the studio and on the boards. From old hands who have been painting for decades to those even newer to the game than me, yet no where and no one had the superior attitudes that I’ve come to find from graffiti writers in the past. This really was a gathering of friendly and helpful people, on two separate occasions I took part in swapping/lending paint with people. Something I’ve only seen in the past between friends and crew at legal walls, never from complete strangers. Some of the people at the event I’d actually wanted to meet for quite a while two such were Eject who I’ve lived in the same area as twice but not actually bumped into. And the other was the very talented Optic Nerve who geographically speaking is from just up the road in Southport and organized last years UpNorth Fest. (Who I slightly embarrassed myself by asking on his Facebook page when he was getting there whilst stood right next to him, which I also did with Irony. Which was even more embarrassing as I had met him in the flesh before). Another group of artists I was really pleased to meet, and just because they were super friendly girls but also incredibly talented too, were the Girls On Top Crew.
As the sun went down, once again all the artists flocked to Studio Q for drinks chats and frivolity. It was whilst sat in the studio looking over an old issue of Graphotism that one of the artists leaned over and pointed a piece out saying ‘That’s mine.’ Now I had not been introduced to this guy, I had no idea who he was to be honest except that he was a super talented artist who’d been painting a huge wall across from the boards. So trying, and I hope suceeding, to get a look at the name under the photo I realised that I was sat across from Sune, that lowly toy me had been chatting away with a fully accredited graffiti artist as if it was just some guy I’d met in the pub. That for me was a wake up call, this is it, this is the moment where I stop being an amateur who mucks about at the weekends. It’s the moment where I realize that everyone starts out like that, that most of the guys, and girls, here have day jobs to go back to on Monday and the few that are lucky enough to be able to do it full time… Worked really hard to be able to.
All in all it was an amazing weekend full of anecdotes, chance meetings, random events and hilarious acts of drunkenness and silliness. One event on the Saturday night truly sticks in my head. Frank who had organized all this went to get food with his family and returned at the end of the evening to lock up and gather those staying at his place. Now by this point people were gathered into groups trying to decide whether to go to a club or not and Frank made it half way into the studio before being spotted. As soon as someone shouted out ‘Here’s Frank!’ the entire crowd of people turned and gave him a spontaneous and heart felt round of applause. To which an honestly humble Frank asked ‘What’s that for?’
I did not stay for the final day and so only managed to get photos of my own fully finished pieces, whoever this guy was around all weekend and has taken some fantastic snaps of all the pieces. His facebook page is JMH Photography North East. Go check out his page and in particular the albums for UpNorth Fest Day One, Day Two and Day Three.
That is pretty much it for now except to say that I’m full of positivity art wise and raring to get on with projects and messy with paint again soon! Finally a BIG thank you to Frank Styles and the Upfest crew who organised and set up the event, and a BIG thank you to Silent Bill for getting me there and back in one piece and not burying me in the woods with all the others.