It’s been a while since we were last in Brighton. That was on a trip which ended up being a bit of an epic discovery tour of the cities dynamic street art scene. You can weave in an out of the back alley’s in the town’s old centre and be sure to see plenty of murals, all different and all hidden away often only revealing themselves when you stumble upon them.
This time though we arrived for a reason. To see a new work from Cosmo Sarson, an artist who himself has only recently moved into the area. ‘Down from London’ as they say in these parts. He’s announced his presence with a full sized shimmering golden wall that he’s named the Angel of Brighton.
A memorial to his late father, Timothy Sarson, the work was unveiled almost a year to the day that he passed away. It depicts a winged woman leaping in mid air ascending against a striking background of gold. Wearing what appears to be a sheet which she holds to her chest whilst it trails away towards the floor, it’s folds rippling in the wind.
This is the Angel! Painted by hand using normal paint and brushes, it is Cosmo’s preferred way of doing things, trained in the more traditional methods of painting there isn’t a spray can in sight. Instead he has chosen to take the studio outside. The canvas just isn’t placed on an easel in a studio anymore, here it has become the wall, accessed by cherry picker, probably a little bit more chilly but still employing the same techniques and still holding true to his method.
Cosmo describes himself as a jobbing artist! Working on film sets doing set decoration and backdrops as a part of the day job. It means that dependent on the movie, he could be asked to do anything. A period drama or a grungy gangster flick, each film would need a different style and present a different challenge. With that in mind going large scale for something like the Angel doesn’t present that much of a problem
You’ll probably have seen his work on the big screen. Currently working on Artemis Fowl he has worked on over 30 feature films including the likes of Skyfall, Allied, Bourne Supremacy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Guardians of the Galaxy and Tomb Raider. Explaining the diversity of his work he said “One minute I’m doing graffiti, the next I’m doing frescos, faking oil paintings or painting a tapestry. It can jump from anything to anything”.
I do get the impression that Cosmo is an artist who doesn’t do things by halves. I also suspect that he might be a man who revels in the impact that his work undoubtedly has. The street piece he is probably most recognised for, a breakdancing Jesus, is loud and proud on the side of Hamilton House in Bristol. It faces Banksy’s famous bomb throwing teddy bear and in many ways has become just as recognisable as a symbol of Bristol’s art scene.
Born out of a bit of a drunken idea, that piece actually served as a sort of return for Cosmo as an artist to the street art scene. A way of announcing to the world that he was back after a period of self imposed exile where he had chosen to step back from his own work for a period of the best part of 12 years and instead focus on the day job. No sooner than it had been revealed though, the breakdancing Jesus went viral. Quite a comeback!
A b-boy breakdancer himself in his earlier years, Cosmo’s early work in particular draws a lot of influence from this period. His first solo exhibition around 1997 was actually a series of self portraits of himself breakdancing in the old Tufnell Park Hall of Fame. B-Boying being a particularly athletic form of breakdancing and the form which also inspired not only the breakdancing Jesus in Bristol but also his subsequent other studio paintings with the same subject.
Always needing to come from a point of original reference it was a breakdancing friend of his who actually pulled off the move which resulted in the Bristol work. “I dressed him up in a wig and loin cloth and then got him to do loads of windmills and flymills. Then he pulled off this final move at the end of the shoot, a one armed handstand saluting and that was the image that went up on the wall opposite Banksy.”
The Angel of Brighton actually picks up on a theme which the breakdancing Jesus commenced. Finding influences within the neoclassical world of the old masters as well as in greek mythology and the work of Caravaggio, this is the basis of both the angel and the Jesus. Even the golden glittery background is a reference to the gold leaf which would have often been found on old religious icon paintings.
As with his other work though the form of the angel still needed to come from an original reference point and required a major photo shoot in order to try and re-create the illusion of flight. Not just any shoot, he actually hired a underwater film stage and an underwater photographer to try and capture the motion of the human form as it moved underwater and which he would use to ultimately inspire the flight of the angel.
That shoot, although expensive, was an investment worth making. Cosmo explained how he needs that reference point to inform his work and would rather create that himself than rely on the internet. A recent piece from the Upfest street art festival also used an image from the same shoot. That work depicted a woman floating in a psychedelic pool of colour and was one of the set piece works from the 2016 event.
So the Angel of Brighton is the latest mural to appear from Cosmo although its longevity is uncertain. The area on Regent Street where it is located is slated for redevelopment so it could be disappearing at a date yet to be determined. For now though it’s there for all to see, a memorial piece, born out of classic influences and a highly original shoot. The Angel of Brighton is indeed, for the time being, a Brighton must see.
Cosmo Sarson was interviewed by the Angel of Brighton mural on 28 January 2018. The mural can be found on Regent Street in Brighton.
The Angel of Brighton Gallery