Blackburn Open Walls Festival brings Street Art to the Town

It’s the first time I’ve been to Blackburn! The proud Lancastrian town with a glorious heritage in weaving and textiles. By the time I leave though I feel that I know the area pretty well and I’ve only spent the best part of six hours up here. You see this is a town which has embraced street art and where the scene has really taken off. All courtesy of what has become known as Blackburn Open Walls.

It’s not the type of place that someone would traditionally associate with street art. Look round the town now though and there are murals from some of the best artists around both locally and nationally. Some are prominent and in your face, others are hidden and require some scoping out but all are impressive, the result of two full years of the festival.

Hayley Welsh and Goya Torres Blackburn Open Walls
Hayley Welsh talks to Goya Torres at the Blackburn Open Walls festival

Local and International Artists in Blackburn

This is the fruit of a collaboration between the local council and local artists, not least the curator of this open air gallery Hayley Welsh. From Blackburn originally she now lives in Australia only popping back over to manage the festival. It’s a labour of love which has resulted in some great works on the street, including a number of pieces from Hayley herself.

Those works featuring lumbering cuddly monsters straddle the sides of the Blackburn Youth Zone, a community building which itself boasts a giant piece of art, this time from Lucy McLaughlin a legacy piece from the festival last year. The creatures represent the little voices that we all have in our heads and often come with thoughts or quotes alongside the art.

Hayley Welsh Blackburn
Cute creature by Hayley Welsh for Blackburn Open Walls

Murals in Blackburn

Dotted around the town are other murals, some legacy and some recent. They are spread not only around the four corners of the town but also stretched along the canalside towards the factory of Graham & Brown. Themselves sponsors of the festival and now a location in its own right and where a series of giant collages from Alexandra Gallagher can be found.

The centrepiece of the festival is a guided tour led by Welsh herself and there’s a large crowd which has gathered. The group is a mixture of artists and locals slowly weaving its way around to the different works where Hayley stops and explains the piece prior to moving on to the next.

Cracked Ink Blackburn Open Walls
Local artist Cracked Ink and his massive mural at Blackburn Open Walls

Blackburn Open Walls

Many of the artists are local or have links to the town. Cracked Ink, who spent 4 days creating a black and white illustration packed wall is from Blackburn but has been living in New Zealand. Dale Grimshaw, known for his realistic portraits of people from West Papua is another local sadly not there at the time we visited but he had been allocated a prime spot which was being prepared. The resulting mural which we saw afterwards via social media is stunning.

Other pieces new to the town include a series of collages from another local artist, Alexandra Gallagher, these add to the pieces she created for the festival the year before. They add to further work from Manchester based Polish artist Tankpetrol. It never ceases to amaze with a work that looks like a giant stencil but is in fact meticulously hand drawn.

Interview with Hayley Welsh

Hayley Welsh talks to Inspiring City

Working in a different medium photographer Andy Faraday, often to be seen collaborating with Welsh placed a giant corrupted polaroid on the side of the Adelphi pub. Whilst an ambitious collage piece from lancashire based paste up artist D7606 was placed alongside the wall of the shopping centre. The piece from D7606 is actually one massive homage to some of the world’s best paste up artists. You’ve really got to look closely at this one.

In the centre, international artists Goya Torres from Mexico and Jerome Davenport from Australia have placed impressive pieces. Torres work, a fun colourful mural showing kingfishers and a beaming women’s face stretches out over an underpass. Meanwhile the work of Davenport stretches out over the large wall of an alleyway nearby. Featuring bees his hyper realism style is always a treat to see with the bees themselves a nod to the emblem of Blackburn.

Hayley Welsh talks about the latest giant mural from Tankpetrol

Make Blackburn Beautiful

Other murals from the previous years festival still remain and remain in good nick. Standout pieces from the Nomad Clan and Annatomix really catch the eye. The Nomad Clan are a stand out crew and were recently in the news for painting the UK’s tallest mural.    Aylo and Cbloxx the duo behind the Nomad Clan, tend to paint large scale intricate pieces often with a connection to the heritage of the area they are painting in. The one in Blackburn makes reference to the towns weaving past and acknowledges the history that women, particularly the weavers and textile workers, made to the town’s development.

There are many reasons and aims as to why street art has been embraced in Blackburn. The one that stands out though is to  ‘Make Blackburn even more beautiful‘. Sure, there’s lots of other good ambitions about supporting local talent, encouraging creativity and engaging the public through street art. All that shows some real forethought on the part of the local authorities but this one shows pride in a town that can embrace art and is willing to experiment to make the town even better.

The Blackburn open walls festival was visited on Saturday 8 July 2017. All pictures were taken and the interview with Hayley Welsh was recorded on the same day. 

Goya Torres by her mural
Goya Torres mural
Jerome Davenport work in the alley
Bee on a flower
More bees
Work by Alexandra Gallagher from 2016
Detail of Alexandra Gallagher collage
Alexandra Gallagher
Collages on the side of Graham & Brown
Andy Faraday talking about his distorted polaroid
D7606 mural
Detail of D7606 mural with work from City Kitty
Hayley Welsh talks about one of her pieces from 2016
Cute monster by Hayley Welsh
Hayley talking about her latest piece
A cheeky hidden away piece from Hayley Welsh
New mural from Tankpetrol
Cracked Ink standing by his new mural
Detail of the Cracked Ink mural
Large scale Lucy McLaughlin on the side of Blackburn Youth Club
Annatomix mural of an eagle chasing a rabbit
Close up of Annatomix mural
Mural from Nomad Clan featuring the weavers of Blackburn
Hayley Welsh talking about the Nomad Clan mural
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Drawing from Goya Torres in the black book
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Black book sketch from Cracked Ink
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Sketch from Hayley Welsh in the Inspiring City black book
Hayley Welsh interview
Hayley Welsh chatting to Inspiring City