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HazardOne mural Poppins Restaurant

Swindon – unlikely mural mecca? Swindon Paint Fest

When someone says ‘street art’ the first city that comes to mind is Bristol. Bristol the artistic birthplace of Banksy, the Wild Bunch, and Upfest.

But, did you know, back in the ‘80s, Swindon was the ‘unlikely murals capital of the UK’? So says Swindon Paint Fest. Back then, there were 40 large-scale street paintings but, today, only two of those originals remain: Ken White’s Golden Lion Bridge in Fleming Way from 1976 and the Arkell’s Brewery-commissioned piece in County Road, painted by Sarah Faulkner in 1986. Ken’s mural has been repainted twice since, the last in 2009, and was originally commissioned to celebrate the centenary birthday of Swindon railway poet Alfred Williams.

Murals and graffiti are an interesting mixture of cultures under the banner ‘street art’. Murals are usually official pieces of public or private art commissioned to commemorate people and places, while graffiti is more contemporary pop culture, a political statement or sprayed on a wall, bus shelter or train stock just for the sheer hell of it, and art school-trained artists rub together with the self-taught. Nowadays, few people regard street art as vandalism and the stencils and spray paint of graffiti have assumed the respectability of the mural.

Street art is a great way to liven up a a utilitarian ‘new’ town like Swindon for businesses, workers and residents. Swindon was first built to house workers for the most covered area in the Victorian world: the GWR locomotive fabrication shop – and the development kicked away from the existing village of Swindon (now known as Old Town) by the local lord. Street art is far cheaper than structural revamps. Or it can make hoardings look great while they hide structural revamps, such as those surrounding the new Premiere Inn and Kimmerfields regeneration. And, if the town (or artist) doesn’t like it then it can be painted over with something else.

Premiere Inn Swindon hoardings

Premiere Inn Swindon hoardings (hoardings have since been replaced by metal sheets) Photo © Business Biscuit

Last year the inaugural Paint Fest was set up by Artsite to put Swindon back on the mural map. And there has been an actual map made: inSwindon BID has worked with Artsite to create 12 new public paintings in recent years so this year, and in one of its last projects, it published a trail signposting more than 60 murals and sculptures in the town.

This year Paint Fest is back, on the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd of September, with its mixture of more than 50 respected local large-scale artists, international street artists and community-created pieces, hot on the paws of July’s Big Dog Art Trail, creating new work and colour for locals and visitors to enjoy.

One headliner piece is up already: HazardOne has completed her portrait on Poppins Restaurant in Regent Street, experimenting in the ‘science of colour’ and balancing realism and abstract. She’s known for her work all over the world from exterior public walls to private business interior commissions, including a seven storey mural in Bristol’s St Paul’s, and has been lauded by The Guardian as a UK top five graffiti artist.

Argentinian duo Medianeras are transforming a gable end in Fleming Way with their hyperreal but utterly fantastical 3D portraits. Medianeras means ‘sidewall’, the shared space between houses. They say: “We want to change the way we usually perceive spaces, our intention is to alter the urban landscape of the street,” by which they mean paint a crazy big 3D-effect mural which looks anything but the dull flat wall or underpass it was painted on.

Oink Gallery, an emporium of contemporary art opposite BBC Wiltshire in Old Town, is a great match for Paint Fest. As well as a few Banksys, Oink’s Bricks, Blocks + Dots exhibition, opening on the festival weekend, will be selling originals and quality prints from some of the street artists seen around the walls of Swindon, such as Bristol-based Mr Penfold, and Swindon-by-way-of-Portugal artist Dario Santos. A bold, colourful skater-style, Mr Penfold has previously partnered with Stella Artois and Water Aid to raise awareness of the effects of water shortage. Another artist with a cheeky street pun name, Philth, originally from Oxford, creates flower-heavy designs and portraits by way of William Morris. Other featured artists include Donk London, Angus and Pure Evil.

Paint Fest is also running open workshops, live painting, live music and performances, art and food markets and yarn bombing with the rebel-spirit of graffiti at its crocheted heart.

HazardOne said of her Swindon experience: “Every single person who stopped while I was painting had something positive to say.”

“It was just a grey wall covered in graffiti,” said Poppins’ assistant manager, Eren Karapinar. ‘Graffiti’ as in tagging rather than street art. “People respect the art and leave it alone. Dayna Baxter painted the other one at the end. I want the brick wall in between the two done for the set!”

Dayna Baxta mural Poppins Restaurant Swindon

Dayna Baxta mural, Poppins Restaurant Swindon. Photo © Business Biscuit

“It’s amazing. Very talented people,” said Alisha Hawkin, Poppins’ waitress. “People kept stopping Harriet [HazardOne] and asking her questions.”

“Hopefully the festival will continue and attract more people to the town,” said Eren.

Given its colourful influence on the town, big Swindon companies should be spraying money at the festival.

It’s still way off its fundraising target so donate here.

Swindon Paint Fest / Oink Gallery exhibition Bricks, Blocks + Dots – weekend 2/3 September

Featured photo, top: HazardOne mural, Poppins Restaurant. © Business Biscuit