compare and contrast

Stokes Croft is a vast open air gallery with an exhibition that changes constantly. When the sun is shining the graffiti artists are out in force and it’s sometimes hard to work out what is emerging and what is being painted over. The photograph below is of the same hoarding a few months ago. In the time between taking these photos several other works have been and gone.

As I’ve said before, one of the things I admire most about the artists who work along this stretch is the time, passion and effort they put into their creations knowing that it will all be replaced by another’s work a few weeks later.

On Tuesday I wandered down Stokes Croft with my friend Penny, on our way to the Arnolfini, and the contrast between the two could not be greater. The art along Stokes Croft is eccentric, beautiful, baffling, entertaining, sometimes hilarious, occasionally hideous, but rarely dull.

Sadly that can’t be said of the Arnolfini, though I have to admit that the current show raised a rare laugh for its preposterous title: Cosima Von Bonin’s Bone Idle For Arnolfini’s Sloth Section, Loop 2 of The Lazy Susan Series, A Rotating Exhibition 2010-2011.

I’m afraid I can’t show you anything much of the show because just after I snapped this, I was asked not to take any more photographs.

I asked why that was and they couldn’t really explain, though they thought it was at the request of the artist. Anyway, camera back in my bag, we wandered, in desultory fashion, around a series of oversized stuffed toys, past some rather dull wall hangings, and in amongst an odd arrangement of cages. What did it all mean? We consulted our exhibition guides. Apparently we were trapped in a complex web of references to high art, popular culture, craft and notions of domesticity all of which were meant to be challenging bourgeois constructions of femininity. Good god, when did the cutting edge of contemporary art become so blunt and tedious?

Oh, and there was a video piece too. Isn’t there always?


cherry blossom

We walk through this archway in King Square each week on our way to the girls’ piano lessons. The square suffers from being a popular spot for scary-looking dogs to brawl, which is always slightly unnerving. Fortunately the dogs are more interested in each other which is why this remains our preferred route.

Actually it would be fairer to say that it is my preferred route because, although King Square isn’t really that interesting architecturally, for a few weeks in March it looks wonderful. And each year I monitor the progress of the blossom week by week, in anticipation of the transformation of this slightly scuzzy corner of Stokes Croft. Throughout February I gazed up at the bare branches and watched as the fat buds emerged. Finally, this week, we were greeted by the fabulous froth of blossom I’d been waiting for. But this year, the blossom, though beautiful, has made me think about the awful events unfolding in Japan.

Many years ago I spent six months in Japan, but I arrived after cherry blossom season and so missed out on Hanami – the tradition of viewing cherry blossom and picnicking beneath the trees. I fell in love with Japan during that time and have wanted to return ever since, particularly to view the blossom. In recent years I’ve satisfied my desire to see the spectacle of thousands of cherry trees in bloom via various blogs and websites. The Japanese obsession with cherry blossom is such that there is a national forecast dedicated to the opening of the blossom, and I’ve always been amused by this. This year however, instead of going online to chase after cherry blossom, I’ve been checking up on various bloggers in Japan who are caught up in this appalling tragedy. Like everyone else I am astonished and humbled by the remarkable stoicism of the Japanese. It is hard to grasp the full horror of what they have been through and what they still face.

If you want to help in some way there is an earthquake appeal here and another here.

urban wildlife

As promised, some more ankle-height art works. This badger lurks at the top of our road. When he first appeared, he was chasing a trail of ants and beetles. Sadly these have been painted over, and although I loved them, I can appreciate that they might not have been to everyone’s taste. I’m not sure when the raccoon arrived on Stokes Croft, but it’s rather lovely and I like the way that it’s been pasted onto the wall so that it perches on a small ledge, a foot or so above the pavement.

And if raccoons weren’t exotic enough, we have a panda too. This has been sitting quietly on the corner of Hillgrove Street for many years.

It now shares the wall with a much more ambitious piece, inspired by The Great Wave, by Hokusai. The fact that the panda was incorporated into the newer piece (given a little boat) illustrates clearly how the many graffiti artists at work in Bristol have a real regard for one another’s work. There are some spots, such as a large hoarding on Jamaica Street, that are understood to be temporary, and artists accept that their works will be painted over in order that someone else can have their moment of glory.

And finally, a creature that as yet has no name. The spirit of the grit box or the grit box demon, perhaps. Whatever they are, there are lots of them around the city and I am always delighted to come across a new one.

mystery knit

This knitted cuff appeared on the lamp post at the bottom of Nine Tree Hill some time ago. It’s a beautiful piece of knitting, and someone has clearly put a lot of thought into the construction and colours – I particularly like the way the grey yarn is such a close match to the lamp post. I wonder if it has a suitably urban name – something like Pavement, drain pipe or lamp post, even – the yarn that is, not the knitting. Today, when I looked, I thought it had gone. But no, it had just slipped a little. I was going to nudge it back into position, but then, when I crouched down, I realised that I rather liked the view from this level. And once you are down at ankle height, there is a surprising amount to see… but that’s for another post.

urban spaceman

A very annoying mobile phone issue meant that I had to traipse into Broadmead when I should have been working. A lot of time was wasted, not least because the way to resolve the problem lay in an old handset that I’d left at home. On the upside, I had my camera with me and I finally captured one of my favourite local characters – Stokes Croft’s urban spaceman. I always forget how large he is, and am slightly surprised as he looms into view.

Stokes Croft is quite remarkable in terms of the scale and variety of graffiti that is on show. And most of it is of a very high quality, with the dull tagging limited to lamp posts and post boxes. Just across from the spaceman, Avon and Bristol Law centre has boldly embraced the local mood.

In an earlier post I mentioned the need to snap these works when you can as they don’t stay around forever. I have walked towards the little girl below many hundreds of times, and now she is gradually disappearing. You can see her in her prime here.

urban wander

Late last week I wandered into town for the first time since …. well, since I took these pictures, just before Christmas. The pavements were less treacherous and, although wet and gloomy, it was good to re-connect with the city. It was also nice to go for an urban wander without the children in tow. Not because I don’t like walking around Bristol with them – though sometimes it can be a little stressful with all three – but I find that I don’t pay much attention to the world around me while I am shepherding the girls across roads or listening to their cheery-streams-of-consciousness, all on full flow at the same time. The first thing that struck me as I hit Stoke’s Croft was that although I know this patch really well, and make a point of looking at it closely because there is so much wonderful and strange graffiti, there are still things that I have managed to miss. The first of which was this tiling around the entrance to the Art House cafe (what is a cash chemist?). I spotted it as I crossed the road, reached for my camera…  but there was no camera. No, not lost, or stolen, but left at home. Doh! As I wandered on down the road, spotting other over-looked architectural details, I realised that I quite often see things that I dearly want to photograph whilst I am out and about without the camera. This wonderful knitted installation in the grounds of St Stephen’s Church was another thing I encountered on that camera-less walk.

As you can see, I managed to retrace my steps a few days later, this time with the camera. I have learned, the hard way, that it is important to be quick about returning to photograph anything that has caught my eye as things do disappear – especially in the case of interesting graffiti (or in this case knitiffi, as they call it). Some years ago someone had scrawled “time isn’t real” on the wall at the top of our road and I kept meaning to photograph it – it wasn’t very beautiful, but it always amused me. And then one day, in its place, there was just a grey rectangle of fresh paint.