The Bankside Gallery story reads almost like a film script.
It’s the tale of an international street art superstar, a city’s response to their work and an underground artistic subculture leaping out of the shadows to paint themselves a spotlight.
Galvanised to bring colour into forgotten corners of the city, the work of Hull’s graffiti artists is now transforming part of Hull’s industrial zone in a way that, to those in the know, it has done for decades. The difference now is, this time, it’s legal. And it’s accessible to members of the public.
An open-air legal art gallery has been created, one that is inspiring all ages and becoming a tourist attraction in its own right. Business owners have volunteered their walls to be filled with colour and artwork, artists have been rushing to showcase their work and feedback from members of the public has been overwhelmingly positive. Bankside Gallery street art quarter is growing by the week.
As a story, it’s got feelgood factor by the bucketload, a hopeful air of “if we paint it, they will come” and an over-riding sense of art being created for art’s sake. If a goal of UK City of Culture was to create an environment where independent culture thrives where you might least expect it, Bankside Gallery is well and truly doing it.
Let’s start at the beginning of this unlikely story and rewind to January 26, 2018.
Hull’s year in the spotlight as UK City of Culture 2017 has come to a close and infamous international street artist Banksy has visited the city in the middle of the night.
The city awakes to find a work of art has appeared on an almost-forgotten permanently raised bridge, the mysterious Banksy claims the piece on his Instagram feed – thereby making it “official” and that – and Scott Street bridge is instantly transformed into Hull’s unlikeliest tourist attraction.
But here’s the twist. No sooner have the good people of Hull got excited about their shiny new Banksy gift, than it is daubed with white paint, and widespread public outrage is sparked. A Hull window cleaner and friend go out in the middle of the night to try to salvage Banksy’s work and are hailed as heroes. Banksy’s – now slightly less than pristine – artwork is saved and quickly covered in Perspex before anything else happens to it.
It left many in Hull’s largely underground graffiti community a little non-plussed. After all, unless you’re Banksy, your illegal artwork is not always welcome.
An idea began to grow. Friends and business colleagues Ollie Marshall and Kain Marshall run an aerosol art company, Spray Creative.
Ollie says: “Basically, me and Kain are part of Spray Creative and we’re also graffiti artists in Hull, so when Banksy came and painted it turned Hull upside down. Suddenly, everyone wanted to know more about the graffiti scene and we became the go-to guys to ask these questions. All of a sudden, everyone became graffiti mad in Hull so we thought, well, let’s see. Nobody could deny the level of interest, the footfall, the hype and the media interest.
“News crews got in touch, David Harrison – a BBC journalist in Hull – did a radio interview with us about whether the Banksy piece was changing attitudes in the city. Me and Kain [of Spray Creative] realised that to keep people in the area around the Banksy piece, there needed to be more there. It was a forgotten industrial area, we needed to give some walls back to Hull’s graffiti scene.
“2017 in Hull was all about drumming up interest and getting everyone on board, now we’ve found ourselves delivering a legacy project, almost by chance. In a way, Bankside Gallery is something that we can give back to the UK City of Culture.”
Ollie, Kain and journalist David joined forces and Bankside Gallery was born.
David says: “I’ve always loved graffiti, street art and everything in between. After the Banksy appeared and I saw the public reaction, it was obvious that there was so much talent out there that many people were completely oblivious to. Ollie and Kain were thinking the same thing: Obviously, having a Banksy on an industrial estate is great, but if no art sprung up around it, it wouldn’t become a tourist attraction and people wouldn’t spend money at local businesses.”
What surprised all three of the founders of Bankside Gallery was how quickly they managed to make it happen.
We're told BBC One's piece about Bankside Gallery will be on @BBCTheOneShow this evening. Huge moment for us & the city's graffiti scene – thank you to all who made it possible. BBC One – 7pm. (They sometimes make last minute changes, so apologies if we don't appear tonight). pic.twitter.com/FghBlVKWEZ
— Banksidegalleryhull (@Banksidegalhull) July 25, 2018
David adds: “Alan Clarke, who was a councillor at the time, helped make it happen for us. It blew us away how quickly people from the art scene mobilised. We wanted to give local artists a platform to be seen, in a way that would hopefully regenerate an area through street art and graffiti. For example, if you go to parts of Berlin or Budapest, often street art comes first and regeneration comes second – we don’t want gentrification, but maybe a nightclub here, or a coffee shop there would be good. So many visitors are coming to see the artwork, we hope it helps local business, such as The Whalebone pub.”
And the tourists really are coming. Teachers have been organising school trips, coaches have been spotted parked up on the main gallery street, next to The Whalebone pub. OAPs and children have been photographed learning how to make art with spraycans. A project is in the pipeline with Ollie’s old school Hedon Primary. Walking tours around the area have been organised. You get a sense that this is just the beginning.
Hull’s graffiti artists, many of whom have been quietly contributing to the city’s subculture for years, are turning out in all weathers, to provide fresh paint and fresh colour. They’ve been joined by traditional artists, paste-up artists, stencillers, in fact, anyone who wants to have a go at making art in public.
David says: “It’s a collective effort: Hull City Council gave us the thumbs up to do it; the artists are all doing it for free, Crown Paint is donating emulsion for the backgrounds of the pieces for free, we’re doing it for free.”
Ollie agrees: “It’s unreal. We’ve had the most welcome feeling from Hull in general. We’ve had support from the art scene, members of the public and the businesses who’ve donated their walls. When we’re out painting, we get thumbs up from people going past, people bring us water, we get claps… when one of Hull’s most respected graffiti artists was back in the city for a few days, he was asking, ‘what have you done to Hull?!’.
“From my point of view as a graffiti artist, the Bankside area is the graffiti mecca of Hull. Crews I grew up admiring painted on the [long-gone] derelict warehouses, John Peel even visited once and was made an honorary member of the crew. As a young lad, I used to get on a bus and go to the warehouses. It’s amazing now to be painting around there, with so many legal walls that you’re spoilt for choice.
“It’s a little hub of positive energy. You get this interaction of different worlds. People love the fact that there’s now colour now in a grey area and the artists love the fact that everyone loves it. We’ve done this for a long time in the shadows, it’s nice to get a good reaction.”
Bankside Gallery: The Movie hasn’t actually been made yet. No one would be allowed to know who plays Banksy, for one thing. Although all British actors with Bristolian accents and everyone who’s ever been in Massive Attack would be listed on the IMDB credits. Just in case. But if they keep painting it, will film crews come? Who knows? National TV crews have already been.
NOTE: Banksy’s Draw the Raised Bridge work is soon to be moved for safety reasons until a new home can be prepared for it. Check Hull City Council’s Twitter feed for the latest details.