Manchester’s Banksy? Meet the elusive street artist behind city’s most iconic stencils

By Ruth Dacey

Meet Stewy, the illusive street artist behind some of Manchester’s most iconic stencils including ‘Mr Manchester’ aka Tony Wilson – the centre piece of his recent Northern Souls Exhibition.

The new piece features the co-founder of the influential Factory Records and creator of the world renowned Hacienda nightclub and was unveiled on the walls of the old venue’s site last week.

This ran alongside a pop up art exhibition at the Great Northern Warehouse which included three other distinctive designs resprayed on chipboard sheets: poet John Cooper Clarke, the writer and gay icon Quentin Crisp and his personal favourite the papier mache-headed singing comedian Frank Sidebottom.

“I have chosen individuals who have touched our lives directly or indirectly by being alive,” the East London based artist told MM.

“My favourite has to be the first of the stencils ‘Frank Sidebottom’, who appeared first in Timperley and then Oldham St, Manchester and I chose to make Frank just after his death.

“Each stencil is a very personal experience as after creating them often a new journey begins where I meet friends and family of my chosen icon as a consequence of my attempt to remember their contribution to society.”

A one-of-a-kind print of the Wilson piece was the focal point in the exhibition’s auction, signed by members of Factory Records alumni with all proceeds going to Christie’s Trust the hospital where the music mogul lost his fight with cancer in 2007.

Mark Ashmore the co-founder of media collective Future Artists expressed how it was important that the artwork was showcased in a unique gallery space.

“The nature of his work is transient, and so it needed to be in a pop up space,” he said.

“We wanted to show as with all future artists events that you can make anything happen, if you want it, and this has been reflected really well in the Northern Souls exhibition.”

Stewy’s distinctive stencils include squirrels scurrying under shop windows in the Northern Quarter, his cat sat patiently on the wall on Thomas Street, and Quentin Crisp standing proudly on Canal street and the Kings Arm pub, Salford. 

The artist was first inspired while growing up in the 70s and 80s seeing political street art at the end of terraces in Belfast and Derry defining lines and boarders between groups and this is reflected in his creations.

“My work is split into two types – people and animals. The people appear to remind us of friends past and present, like ghosts across the street,” he said.

“Manchester is a people’s city, the buildings are strong and seem to radiate stories from a proud industrial past.

“It inspires me because it’s so rich in obscure iconic figures – it’s a wonderful city with the most welcoming and generous people.”

Some critics claim the artist’s work to be very similar to Banksy, due to their anonymity, basic technic and realistic life sized designs however the man of mystery heavily disputes this.

“Yes I am anonymous but the idea of spending another night in a cell isn’t very appealing,” he said.

“Of course Banksy’s work has impacted on me as I have been living in the area where he and Eiene’s work appeared literally overnight in London and Brighton but I also discovered Blek Le Rat’s work,” he said.

“I chose British icons that I like, who may have challenged people’s pre conceptions of say poetry for JCC or gay rights for Quentin Crisp. But the key difference is the icons appear where they lived, worked or died – like phyco geography.

Stewy’s work can be seen in London, Brighton, Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester and has become increasingly collected as it is now sought by international art shows however his identity along with his future projects remain shrouded in mystery.

“I can’t really talk about what’s coming up other than it involves a cyclist and a musician,” he said.

For more information about Stewy’s artwork visit here.

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