We are back in Blackburn! The northern former mill town which this year celebrated it’s third Open Walls festival. It’s an event which has left it’s mark on the area and which has attracted artists from around the world to paint on its walls.
Alexandra Gallagher has offered to show us around. She’s from Bury originally but has lived in the town for years. A fine artist, this is where her studio is with her detailed and delicate work sought after in galleries across the UK. More recently she has been creating work using digital images to make into exquisite collages.
ART RELATED NONSENSE
A veteran now of all three iterations of the Blackburn Open Walls festival. The expansion of street art into her town has also helped her to expand her craft. Twice experimenting with large scale paste ups in key locations for the first two festivals. For the 2018 version she thought she’d paint a full on mural. Her first actual street painting.
The reason we are meeting though is partly to see the art but really to record a podcast episode with her. Featuring as part of our ‘Art Related Nonsense‘ series with Art Republic, the gallery in Brighton. It’s not exactly close to Blackburn where we are now, but they sell a lot of Alexandra’s work and the podcast is meant to bridge the gap. To make a connection between people who might see and buy the work and the artist themselves.
STREET ART IN BLACKBURN
Her foray into the world of street art has been fortuitous. It’s not everyday a major street art festival establishes itself in your town. The mastermind behind it, Hayley Welsh, is another Blackburn artist and she has been the driving force. Gathering combinations of local, national and international artists to take part. The two hadn’t met before the festival took off but now they know each other well and work together to make it a reality.
She is showing us around the town. Now there are over 30 murals to see and realistically we would never be able to get around to them all. She seems proud that the murals seem to be starting conversations within Blackburn. They stimulate thought and become meeting places she tells me. “They become focal points to the town” Alexandra tells me, “people start to cherish them.”
BLACKBURN’S FAVOURITE MURAL
The first mural she shows me is from Phlegm. The big name artist from Sheffield, his illustrative style in which he creates a whole new world is hugely popular. It was recently voted Blackburn’s favourite mural Alexandra tells me proudly. Depicting a fantasy creature sitting at a loom, the image is clearly a nod to Blackburn’s historic past as a cotton weaving town.
Just around the corner is a piece from Hayley Welsh. The Blackburn local, who actually lives now in Australia but travels back to make the festival happen. She has created a work based on the cute little creatures she paints. Creatures that are meant to be representative of the thoughts in your head. Look around the town and there are plenty other murals from Hayley, all giving their own little messages.
BRINGING STREET ART TO THE TOWN
“It’s one of my favourite views in the town” says Alexandra as we look at Hayley’s cute creatures and up towards the work by Phlegm a little bit further up. Nearby we get to see other works from artists such as Case Maclaim, Mr Christa, Curtis Hylton, AddFuel and of course more from Alexandra herself.
The murals are helping to rejuvenate the town she tells me. Blackburn is an area which has suffered more than most following the economic crash which begun in 2008. The Open Walls Festival she says is a way of bringing culture into the heart of the town. She has seen how street art has helped to bring life to other places and already she notes how the people in the town seem to appreciate the work and take care of it.
But it’s not just benefiting the culture of the town. Street art can also bring attention to the town’s heritage Alexandra tells me. “I think that’s one thing that the street art does do. It makes people look at the town and the architecture and the buildings in a different way. Because we actually do have some amazingly beautiful Victorian buildings but we don’t really look at them above the shop fronts.”
“It took me about a week and a half” she tells me when I ask about the street piece she created for the 2018 festival. Her first foray to actually painting onto the street. It’s a giant mural featuring two cranes crying out against the backdrop of golden spheres and flowers. Ambitious for sure considering the fact that all her previous work is really studio based. “I loved the challenge of it” she tells me “I just love the challenge of doing new things.”
Alexandra Gallagher was interviewed on 5 August 2018 in Blackburn as part of our Art Related Nonsense podcast series with the Art Republic Gallery in Brighton. The podcast was released on 8 November 2018 and you can get the podcast now on itunes or android.