Street art continues to grow in Sunderland

Street Art has always been a part of Sunderland’s culture but in recent years it has blossomed with local street artists creating more and more fantastically original pieces of work, street art events that have attracted some of the biggest names and now the ‘Street Art Heroes’ project brought to us by the ‘Cultural Spring’.

In 2013 Sunderland welcomed the UpNorth Fest, part of Bristol Urban Arts Festival Upfest, for a weekend of street art. The event took place in and around Nile Street and Villiers Street which is home to ‘Creative Cohesion’, a centre for creativity in the arts. The event attracted ‘The Stencil Shed’, ‘Frank Styles’ and ‘Kiwi PDD’ among many others to create some wonderful permanent and temporary pieces of street art.

Just prior to this event Frank Styles had completed a massive 12metre wide by 12metre high piece of street art on the gable end of a building on High Street West entitled ‘Two Whites’. It is of two white butterflies on a background of red flowers and was the largest piece of street art in Sunderland.

Street art in Sunderland has moved on again with the ‘Street Art Heroes’ project which is brought to Sunderland by the ‘Cultural Spring’, a three year project funded by the Arts Council.

Artist, curator and author of the book ‘Street Art: From Around the World’, Garry Hunter is leading the ‘Street Art Heroes’ project and has brought together street artists from as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Canada and Morocco.

One of the leading street artists in the ‘Street Art Heroes’ is Canadian Peter Gibson also known as ‘Roadsworth’, who began his street art career as a protest against car culture in his native Montreal. The wish for more bicycle lanes led him to stencil bicycle symbols in and around the city. After being arrested on 53 counts of public mischief over his public art his career went from strength to strength and he has worked all over the world including Europe. His work is usually on the road rather than on the wall and includes chequered designs that are similar to but are not real road markings, flocks of geese flying down the road, shoals of fish being caught in a net and a giant birds nest sitting in the middle of the road. Peter’s work can be seen in many places in Sunderland including Park Lane and High Street West.

Another leading street artist and part of the ‘Street Art Heroes’ project is Ben Wilson who creates street art out of discarded rubbish he finds in the street including chewing gum stuck to the pavement. To create these miniature works of street art he melts the chewing gum and then paints it with enamels to create anything from a landscape, a portrait, a memorial to some event or simply a statement. There are over 10,000 of these chewing gum pieces and while he still creates his own compositions he does take commissions. His work is often part of larger project such as his ‘chewing gum’ trail across the London Millennium Bridge to St Pauls or those he does for communities where he creates a chewing gum trail relevant to that community. Ben Wilson’s street art attracted the attention of authorities in the early days when he was arrested by London Police while creating one of his pieces of art. Although the authorities were originally unhappy with his work they were unable to take any action against him as legally chewing gum stuck to the pavement has no owner and therefore Ben was not defacing public property. Although no action was taken against him it did earn him the sobriquet ‘Chewing Gum Man’.

One of the largest pieces of street art in Sunderland was the 12metre square ‘Two Whites’ on High Street West created by Frank Styles. But another wonderful mural that is as large if not larger can be seen at Panns Bank. This fitting addition to Sunderland’s street art reflects its industrial heritage in its depiction of ships on the Wear. This very large and very wonderful piece of street art can be best seen from the opposite side of the Wear on the Sculpture Trail where both Sunderland University and the National Glass Centre reside.

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Sunderland marks the easterly end of the 140-mile C2C (Coast to Coast) route. The C2C cycle trail from Whitehaven in Cumbria to Sunderland is Britain's most popular long distance route, with up to 15,000 cyclists completing it every year.

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