What exactly does Manchester have to offer apart from football, music and TV soap operas? A trip north a short while ago revealed all boxes ticked for a vibrant street art scene: recent work, local and visiting artists, a variety of techniques and, thankfully, it’s not just about murals.
Here’s a little blast of the street art in Manchester. It’s not a guide, nor is it an history, nor a “best of” ranking and it is definitely not intended to be comprehensive. It’s just a sample of some of the street art I enjoyed and if you are inspired to visit or go exploring rest assured there is tons more street art, not to mention everything else Manchester has to offer that will make your trip worthwhile.
Having a waddle around Manchester checking out the street art prompts musings on the architecture and the nature of the host environment. Many buildings are imposing relics from an age of imperial trade and industrial wealth when Manchester was, courtesy of its canal link to the Irish Sea, a hub for international business. These grand buildings on wide streets turn their arses onto alleyways named “Back” followed by the name of the parallel main drag at the front of the buildings. These alleys, where bins are put out and homeless seek shelter play host to a lot of the non permissioned paste up art.
Substantial swathes of the Northern Quarter have been or are being redeveloped, the building site hoardings provide temporary canvas space for graffiti writers and flyposters in the brief interlude before the school of “no art, no public not even any sitting down” anodyne architecture renders Manchester indistinguishable from any other ordinary modern civic centre. Home from home for Shoreditch types.
Two artists new to these eyes were particularly intriguing. The 1980s synth legend Gary Numan is known in his other life to be a qualified pilot, had the railway been his obsession instead he would surely have penned “Are Trains Electric”. Well done Jungle Angelo for that and several other pun-tastic pop references. Flook 71’s grimy rough collages really suited the battered and grim doorways in the back streets of Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
The Portland/NY street art gang that visited London, Paris and Barcelona in Summer 2022 also made the trip to Manchester where they hung out with local artist D7606, the result being a phenomenal number of stickers, prints, collaborations and contributions to paste-up halls of fame. The added bonus is that the art they placed in Manchester was different, not merely replicas of stuff we saw in London.
Like the Portland posse, I was privileged and delighted to have for company and as local guide the legend that is D7606, a fabulous ambassador for the Manchester street art scene (as well as a prolific artist with art in many many cities around the world. Two particular collaborations were eye-catching, the phone box with the artist Paloma Rodrigues’ self-portrait has an inherent blue fade which thanks to careful placement looked almost site specific, while with Shaun Lugo’s dog character the American payphone in the classic British K6 phone box provided an amusing juxtaposition.
Space Invader aficionados will doubtless be aware of the Manchester invasion that took place in 2004, 47 street mosaics were left lurking and without too much effort 31 of them were located and dutifully “flashed”.
On the theme of mosaics, many were spotted which even to the outsider’s eye were clearly a surfeit of Mancunian pride, an homage to Manchester personalities, landmark moments, fictional doppelgangers and objets of certain eras: Colin Bell and George Best, Peter Saville’s Joy Division artwork, Coronation St, Liam, Morrisey and Mark E Smith. Mark Kennedy from Manchester is the artist working on a commission by the property developer.
Strolling through an area of oppressively “here be money” offices I stumbled almost literally across a Rainbow Flag mosaic set in the pavement. Chatting later with a street cleaner he told me there were six in various locations that he was aware of. Subsequent research suggests they date from 2007 and marked the path of the Manchester LGBT Heritage Trail and were designed by the same Mark Kennedy.
There were some spectacular murals on the fringes of the Northern Quarter, mainly relics of two “Cities of Hope” mural festivals in 2016 and 2018. It was a relief to find at least one mural by Manchester’s finest Nomad Clan and a surprise to not find as many Akse murals as expected.
When it comes to a rebellious spirit and pride in identity Manchester sits right up there with Bristol for fostering mavericks and embracing creatives. Exploring Manchester was enjoyable, exciting and highly recommended. Take an umbrella.