IN PICTURES: The street art that has transformed Manchester into living city sketchbook

By Richard O’Meara

Whether applied hastily in the dead of night or commissioned legally, street art/graffiti is transforming Manchester into a living, breathing art installation.

While galleries are often associated with exclusivity and conservatism strolling through the city streets offers an art experience that is free and accessible to everyone.

As good a place as any to start is the Northern Quarter.

However, to see the best pieces a bit of exploration may be in order.

Tucked down the alleys running between the café’s, vintage shops and bars are an array of hidden gems waiting patiently to be discovered.

Some of the Northern Quarter’s most grand and impressive examples of street art on the other hand are very hard to miss.

Wandering down Newton Street reveals a beautiful five-storey mural of a bird perched on a flowering vine, whoever said graffiti was an eyesore?

On the corner of Church Street and Union Street is a similarly vast full wall space, currently occupied by a number of stylised aqua and gold female portraits.

The heart of the Northern Quarter’s street art scene however may be Stevenson Square’s Out House Installation.

The once unsightly block of disused public toilets in the squares’ centre has been transformed into a revolving gallery showcasing some of the most cutting edge work the city has to offer.

Artist, photographer and human encyclopaedia of Manchester street art, Gareth Hacking said: “At its best, a lone piece of street art can stun you with its beauty or give you pause for thought.

“But it can also help define a whole area, just like the Outhouse project has done for Stevenson Square.”

Currently Welsh artist RP Roberts has adorned the block with atmospheric chalk-styled mountain vistas.

The space is handed over to a new artist every three months meaning the area is constantly refreshed and revamped.

Previously it played host to photorealistic brush portraits of Breaking Bad’s Walter White along with other big and small screen villains courtesy of French artist Akse P19.

A more permanent fixture of Manchester’s streets are the clandestinely applied, weather resistant and hard to reach mosaics of the world-renowned Invader.

Keenly trained eyes might spot dozens of the Frenchman’s simple but innovative depictions of characters from Space Invader all over the Northern Quarter.

When asked in a recent interview how he chooses which spot to hit next Invader said: “That is the hardest part of the invasion.

“I don’t have so many pieces because my mosaics are heavy and fragile; I have to find the best spots for them. It is like doing urban acupuncture!”

Invader has left his pixelated mark everywhere from all nine letters of LA’s Hollywood sign, to a nearly 200 year old statue facing the The Lourve.

The French born artist also featured prominently in Banksy’s was-it-real-was-it-not documentary Exit through the Gift Shop.

Away from the tightly policed city centre, where art is usually commissioned rather than applied in the traditional guerrilla fashion, is another mecca of Manchester graffiti – the River Irwell.

Descending the steps to the Manchester Canal by Castlefield and walking the tow path towards Old Trafford reveals an expanse of vibrant ‘tags’ and ‘throw-ups.’

Image courtesy of Bucket of Tentacles, with thanks

More in tune with original 1970’s New York ethos of writing your name in an unorthodox style and trying to make it go ‘All City’, these unregulated pieces often don’t stick around for long.

Image courtesy of Bucket of Tentacles, with thanks

Painters spotted by the riverside might scarper when they hear a siren, and may not take kindly to the gentrified connotations of ‘street art’, but are a vital part of the scene none the less.

Irwell contributor, DROS, who prefers the term ‘graffiti writer’ said: “What we do is less for the public and more for other writers – tagging is almost a language in itself.

“But if people who don’t write can enjoy it along with us then that’s fine with me too, just don’t call what I do ‘street art!’”

Image courtesy of Tom Jameson, with thanks

If the jaunt down the canal left you parched a great place to end your street art saunter is the area around New Wakefield Street.

Behind the bars at the town end of Oxford Road are a number of collage pieces which almost jump off the railway bridge they are painted on.

Image courtesy of Tom Jameson, with thanks

It’s hard to even scratch the surface of a scene where any street corner can be the potential gallery for the next Banksy or Invader.

It becomes even harder when some pieces survive for months or years and some only days.

That may exactly be why street art is so at home in the cultural hustle and bustle of Manchester.

While ‘graffiti’ was once the target of ire, this skilful, diverse and striking array of art is a lick of fresh paint a-top of Manchester’s already unrivalled urban history.

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