Open Walls Festival brings Street Art to Blackburn
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.
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 Blackburn open walls festival.
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.
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.
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 which never ceases to amaze with a work that looks like a giant stencil but is in fact meticulously hand drawn.
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 itself being 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.
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.
Blackburn Open Walls Gallery