WORDS: Jamie Potter
Bankside and Wincolmlee is an area few people in Hull will have ventured to, except maybe to use it as a rat run to circumvent the city’s clogged arterial roads. The city’s former industrial heart used to hum with activity along its working river and, while industry still has a small foothold along these streets, much of the human activity these days focuses on the truly hidden gem ‘proper’ pubs selling real ale, such as The Whalebone.
That all changed when a certain Banksy left his mark on the old Scott Street bridge and people from across the city flocked to see the world-famous artist’s latest work. Cue an impromptu group calling themselves Bankside Gallery, who saw the potential in handing over the area’s blank walls to artists to transform them into a sprawling, living artwork that would ensure this was no flash-in-the-pan incident. Now graffiti is appearing on a weekly basis, thanks to their efforts to facilitate a more active scene in Hull.
Browse met Ollie Marshall and David Harrison, two of those involved, in the Whalebone in February, shortly before the first paint was applied. It was the same pub where the initial idea came to mind: to identify legal walls, where anybody can throw-up work without fear of prosecution, alongside walls earmarked for commissions, such as murals, which would be paid for by the property owners. All they needed was the help of the city council and local businesses.
“We can’t run to protect Banksy and not give back to people in Hull,” says Ollie. “We have the Hull graffiti scene that would jump at the opportunity to paint in places like this. Then there’s the people who do murals and all the closet artists who we may not know about yet and the council completely agree with that.”
They approached the council, as well as local businesses, and within days the first walls had been identified. Now over 60 pieces have gone up on three walls opposite The Whalebone, on Wincolmlee, on Bankside near Clough Road and the pathway near Wilmington Bridge. Importantly there have also appeared new works over the ‘old’ which, for the uninitiated, is exactly what these artists want to see.
“I want to paint a space, spend my money on paint and get annoyed the next day when I see it gone, but in a good way, because that means people are proactive,” explains Ollie. “You want to see it refreshed.”
This hive of activity is once again putting Hull artists on the map, as they publically share and shape their craft in a part of the city with historical significance for the graffiti community. As Louis Jopling’s excellent piece on the Browse website points out, Hull’s graffiti writers of the early ‘90s were known throughout the UK, particularly for their work in abandoned warehouses at the top of Bankside near Clough Road. One crew, TCF, had links to Bristol, which may even explain a certain Bristolian’s decision to visit Hull one cold night in January.
It’s not just the likes of Banksy that Bankside Gallery hope to see along Wincolmlee and Bankside though. “We want it to be a place where anyone can try it, where previously they have never had a chance,” says David. “Your nanna could even come or we could do classes with schools. They can come down, give it a go and create possible artists of the future.”
David also sees the potential for regeneration that street art could bring to the area.
“At the moment we have a couple of nice pubs and a Banksy and nothing else; it’s dead land and factories that’s been disbanded for years,” he says. “Our idea is, firstly, it’s a space for artists to do their art, do their graft and do so legally, without being prosecuted.”
“Then naturally it’s likely, looking at the likes of Shoreditch and Bristol, as well as parts of Budapest, Leipzig and Berlin, that it will spark some creative businesses around it. You could have a little gallery, events space, a coffee shop and suddenly it’ll become a cool place to come. The art comes first and then regeneration comes after that.”
“We want to give back to the industrial heritage of Bankside, which helped make this city,” adds Ollie.
The team have already established a social media presence under the guise of Bankside Gallery to raise their profile and spread the word, but what actually is it and how will it operate?
“The council will have its register and a business will say whether they want it to become a legal wall, which will then become available for everyone to see online,” explains David. There could also be something on the walls themselves, such as a tick to say “paint here” or a cross to mark a commission wall.
“There could also be a system where even the commissions have a couple of months’ lifespan, whereas the legal walls could change every day,” adds Ollie. He mentions a model like that of the Three Chimneys in Barcelona, that could inform you which walls have become available or haven’t been touched in months before you arrive.
The whole thing has taken off at serious speed and still appears to be getting sussed out. What it’s certainly not is Ollie, David and company’s space and they’re keen to impress that there is no sense of ownership over the project. Rather it’s a playground for artists of all experience to get their hands dirty; they’re just facilitating it.
“We’re just trying to break down the competition,” says David. “We want people who have ideas to jump in and make things happen and bounce ideas off each other over a pint after. As long as people have a place and space to make it happen.”
“Creatives are all in the same struggles,” says Ollie. “Let’s help each other out for once.”
Follow the Bankside Gallery on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram: @banksidegalleryhull