Bristol is a unique place to visit. Newcomers to the city are often struck by the vibrant and diverse identity and sense of community which can be found there. From its electrifying night life to its eclectic and ground-breaking music scenes, Bristol is one of the foremost cultural centres of the United Kingdom.
But one of the City’s best kept secrets has also become one of its star attractions in recent years – for people in the know, at least. Because amongst the urban architecture, visitors come to Bristol in search of great works of modern art. These works cannot be found in any gallery, however. In Bristol anywhere may become the canvas for pieces of work created by one of Britain’s most celebrated and renowned street artists: Banksy.
The famous Bristolian painter, graphic designer and graffiti artist has been a leading figure in the city’s subcultural art movement for over a decade, and has been an active street artist since the start of the 1990s.
Banksy stands apart from other Young British Artists of the twenty-first century, thanks to the unique approach he brings to every aspect of his art. From his anonymity and his carefully guarded identity, to the guerilla marketing tactics he uses to promote his work, to the very fact that some of his most famous creations can be found outside in public: on walls rather than framed canvases.
As a street artist, Banksy’s style – of darkly humourous and satirical stencil drawings – is both instantly recognisable and widely imitated around the world. His trademark technique was directly inspired by Bristol and its alternative arts and music scene. As a young graffiti artist Banksy discovered that by using stencils he could create elaborate and clear images which held a powerful social message in a much shorter time than by working freehand. Because Banksy’s works were still considered by authorities to be acts of vandalism at this point in his career, it was necessary to work as quickly as possible to avoid both the police and his identity being made public.
As an established figurehead in Bristol’s counter-culture, Banksy’s work exploded in popularity when he travelled to London and began working on the streets of the capital. As Banksy’s reputation grew, he became one of the most sought after graphic designers in the British pop culture. He worked closely with the britpop band Blur in creating the album sleeve for their 2003 album Think Tank, and he took his public works of art to a new level of controversy and notoriety.
Banksy has hijacked museum and gallery spaces by hanging his own subversive pictures on the wall without permission, usually hiding his own work amongst similar images. In one of his most famous art stunts, he recreated a cave painting of a stone age hunter which also included an anachronistic supermarket shopping trolley. He covertly attached his image to the wall of the British Museum, amongst a gallery of authentic cave paintings.
Banksy’s work has a strong political and social message, and he uses his artwork to speak out against poverty, violence and warfare. One of his most famous projects centred on a 2005 visit to Palestine, where he created nine stencilled works of art for the controversial wall which divides the Palestinian and Israeli people. These works included an image located near to Bethlehem, which shows a chink in the wall, and an island paradise on the other side of the wall.
But it is his often humourous treatment of his subjects – and his apparent disrespect for not only his own works but for the entire art establishment – that keeps Bristol’s most famous artist so fresh, exciting and vital within the contemporary British art movement.
Aside from the street art in the city, Bristol offers a vast array of activities and events for the family: Staying in Bristol hotels, eating out, cafes and an eclectic mix of gigs theatre events and stand-up comedy.