Banksy is possibly the world’s most famous graffiti artist. He’s been variously described as an "elusive art terrorist", "shadowy", "a streetwise scourge of the establishment" and has painted and stencilled across several continents, most famously on the Palestinian side of the Jerusalem wall. His work has also hung, albeit briefly, in some of the major galleries of the world, including the Tate, the Louvre and the New York Metropolitan.
While Banksy’s identity remains a secret and he rarely gives interviews, it is certain that he’s from Bristol. While his work is gradually disappearing from the city’s streets and lanes, some of the larger paintings have become prominent and popular local landmarks.
Up on Stokes Croft, the Mild, Mild West mural; a teddy bear aiming a Molotov cocktail at riot police, faces one of the main roads as it approaches central Bristol, and tells the story of heavy handed police treatment of the soft and cuddly Bristol dance music subculture that nurtured artists like Massive Attack, Roni Size and Portishead.
A more recent mural faces the bottom of busy Park Street as it approaches College Green and the Bristol cathedral. Five or six metres above ground level, a fully-clothed and angry man peers out the window while his semi clad wife tries to calm him and her as yet unseen lover dangles by his fingertips from the window sill. If you’re anything like me, you’re first reactions will be "ha, that’s funny", quickly followed by "how the heck did he get up there?"
Another Banksy stencil that has survived in the centre is on the side of the Thekla, which is an old German warship that’s now used as an entertainment venue and is moored just upstream from the Arnolfini and the Mud dock café on the floating harbour. From the other side of the river you can see Banksy’s grim reaper rowing along in a canoe
Finding more Banksy stencils will require a bit of walking and the area around the teddy bear mural, just north of the centre up to Picton Street, is a good place to start. Not only will you spot Banksy works like the statue of liberty dancing the can-can and holding an assault rifle, there’s also plenty of other good graffiti in the neighbourhood.
Some of the other graffiti is obviously just as political as some of Banksy’s work, but there are lots of styles and some of the pubs and nightclubs have invited graffiti artists to decorate their buildings. The result is a colourful and vibrant neighbourhood that’s a delight to walk around, especially if your wanderings mean that you end up near the Bristolian café on Picton Street and you have time to pop in there for a cuppa.