6 June 2009


So, Upfest. I didn't have high hopes really, but I wasn't expecting it to be that strange.

For a start, having an event held in a car park is a bit random - not enough places to sit etc, not really big enough to move round. £4 to get out there as well, and then once out, there was a feeling of sterility to it. I couldn't put my finger on it, but then I realised. Usually when people paint together, they discuss what they're doing, and connect it somehow. So the fences at the Bristol Festival were painted by a huge number of people, but there was a 'flow' to them, even if the styles etc were different. Or if people just come and paint on a wall that's already painted, there's usually something done to connect the piece to what's there. But here it was just pieces next to each other, with pretty much no connections, and no attempt to join them together. Some of the writers I spoke to told me about how the people they were painting next to just weren't interested in that aspect - so it makes me wonder how much of the 'flow' is cultural to Bristol. I know in Barcelona there's a huge collaboration culture, and the stuff I've seen round Brick Lane, Southwark and Hackney - but maybe that's the exception? I can't imagine it is, so maybe it's something to do with the intention of the Fest? Something about the focus on having as many people there as possible, not on making it the best graff it could be?

It felt like was that it was a bit of a zoo of graff writers. People coming up and staring, getting close with no interaction with the writers - it felt a hundred miles from the atmosphere painting 'in the wild'. Everything I like about hanging out with graffiti artists felt missing - the cameraderie (in general - the groups chatting around Soker and Acer's pieces, f'rinstance, felt much more normal), the mellowness and the feeling of brotherhood. Sometimes I feel so out of place being a girl-but-not-girlfriend hanging around, because there's such a feeling of family amongst the blokes - but here I just felt weird.

It felt different in different sites though. The garage on North Street was just frantic, hundreds of stencillers inside, and no one local. By the time I got to the pub on Greenway Bush Lane I was doubting how I feel about graff - maybe I've just seen too much in these last 12 months? But then seeing the wall there, especially Jody and the lovely bloke whose name I didn't catch*, it all made sense again. It was like a finger down my spine - seeing how amazing graff can be again - and talking to them, especially about how they'd talked beforehand about what they were doing and how it would fit, reaffirmed the notion that the best graff relates to what's around it. It doesn't have to be slavish, it just has to take notice. Some really lovely pieces - will definitely go back and grab some shots when it's done.

It was fun to see so many people, and hang out and chat - and there were some nice pieces. It's just it didn't work as well as it could have done, and as an event felt soul-less. Someone told me that's the difference between events organised by writers and those that aren't.

* Edit: it was Boyd Hill, and I loved his stuff. Thanks Jody!


Acerone said...


jodytee said...

Sarah - well thought out and a good piece for maybe a wider discussion somewhere? Anyway, being that you and Acer (I’ll post up on his blog after this) have given your take on the 'flow' between artists I’ll put my take on it…

Steve Hayles the organiser turned up at the Weapon of Choice night when I was doing the live drawing thing with Jef Row and asked me personally to paint at the festival and I of course agreed. As time went on I began to overhear on several occasions, and from several people that the UpFest was – not to put too fine a point on it – a “BanksyFest”; Many artists from all over the country turning up with a folder of precut stencils under their arm blasting their various areas with good/bad and ugly ‘pieces’ and then standing around taking pictures of each others efforts looking pleased from themselves. This didn’t deter me in any way, in fact quite the opposite as I was intrigued to see what passed as ‘urban art’ these days.

I bumped into Steve a few weeks back and I asked where I would be painting and he said a pub around the corner with 4 other artists – all with similar portrait/photorealism styles. I was made up because I immediately felt like I would be part of a potential ‘production wall’. I didn’t know any of the other writers but sure enough when the list was announced I was immediately contacted by Foundry from Brighton - he emailed me and the other guys to work out what we were going to produce on the day, we all conversed and even talked about doing smaller spots on other peoples spaces to tie it in – already the negativity surrounding the Upfest dissolved as we were all on the same page. Come the day I was outside the spot – which looked like an out of the way place – up rocked Boyd Hill (that’s the guy you were talking to Sarah) an artist that I had lost contact with 18 years ago and he was painting next to me, last time I saw him was down at Barton Hill.

We all got together and divided up our spaces and we got on with it – but had frequent stops to see how each others pieces fitted in. During the day I walked up to have a quick look around at the other sites and I was shocked at just how frenetic the other sites were – the inside of the garage had the feel of an artistic event held in the middle of a war zone and as for The Tobacco Factory …. music blaring, people everywhere, the wind literally blowing stencils, bits of card, tape all over the place - I saw one guy fighting with a stencil the size of a boat sail, desperately trying to tape it to a panel and it completely engulfing him in a gust of wind. I don’t think And yes - it didn’t have the feel of the usual get-togethers but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time and I had also noticed that artists had their own spots and were painting within the confines of them. I know that Jer Lokey was pissed off because he planned to paint with Soker and Kato but couldn’t because there was not enough space. There were too many artists there and not enough room to do burners.

Also because of the nature of stencil artists, and the sheer amount of them at the TF and garage they have what they are painting already pre-planned/cut, possibly even pre-painted and tested beforehand so changing what they were going to do on the day to fit in to the guy next door is almost an impossibility. With ‘freehand’ pieces you can extend, move or change to suit as you are not so tied down to a rigid plan.

The point I’m getting to after this rather long-winded build up is this: The garage and TF didn’t have the feel of a ‘jam’, certainly for the Bristol writers anyway – and in an attempt not to sound too smug: our site did. The landlord of the pub was made up about what we had done – he even got us tea and coffee and put a barbeque on Sunday for us. We were out of the main drag also so had a steady stream of spectators and we didn’t feel too on show. All in all we really lucked out where we were – and I’ve got to hand it to Steve and his team getting 150 artists into 7 different venues is the stuff sleepless nights…

knautia said...

Acer - yes! I'm embarrassed that I should have pointed yours out as one that worked well in that context - because like you said, you'd planned it as stand-alone. Also because (and I'm sorry for a fangirl attack) your stuff stands out for me always - I love that combination of photographic, graff-ic and hand painting - it always looks interesting, and makes its own context.

Jody - thank you for your take too. I think it was the frenetic-ness/frantic-ness that freaked me out about the TF and the garage - it felt like a huge hurry to get things done (and some to get things done and get away) - which again doesn't feel like graff to me (well, except for times like the Museum jam, where everyone was freezing to death and just wanting to warm up!). And the space thing - I hadn't thought of that really, but I guess it's obvious, in such small spaces. I guess I don't notice space when it's people working together and sharing it - I'm guessing the organisers didn't want too many Bristol people together, which I can understand, but it did mean people who paint best as crews or bouncing off each other were cramped.

It makes me wonder if stencil work can work in conjunction with freehand, and I'm wracking my brains to think of times it's worked. There was a yaka piece in the Deaner which combined stencilled words and his faces that I never knew if were made together, as one piece, or just worked - this by BTOY in Barcelona (no pic of the bigger piece) and the FLX/Nick Walker piece on the back of Cooshti work too - but that's a 'planned-in-advance' thing. I think of my favourite stencils and it's the way Dan makes them for specific sites, or the way Jef Row placed his (Jef Row's monkeys = the reason I started looking at graff in the first place) - oh, and Jef's Revenge piece.... and this, which I loved... Maybe for me stencils work because of the way they're placed, but not so much in the context of a jam.

I think ultimately it wasn't meant as a jam, it was meant as something else - a showcase maybe? I started off grumpy that it didn't include the Deaner in the 'urban art trail' (esp as it's looking so good at the moment) - but I suppose that's not the kind of thing Upfest is all about.

You're both right about the logistical, organisational impressiveness. I think I've been spoilt by the apparent ease of the Museum and Crimes of Passion, and am not giving enough credit!

Oh, and Jody, I wish I'd seen man-being-eaten-by-stencil... I'm laughing at my mental picture, would *loved* to have got a photo of that one....

matt said...

the other point worth remembering about UpFest is that it is open to all .. that means allot of people who don't paint the street , who never been to a jam , who have never collaborated on a wall , have an opportunity to find out what it is like to paint in public ..this leads to (hopefully) allot of learning going on for those that are open to expanding their horizons.
i think people get hung up on the stencil thing as well .. i saw just as much (if not more) freehand , paint brush , markers , paste - ups as i did stencils .
have to agree that many stencil artist/art is too rigid and has no flexibility .. also allot of people are too 'precious' over 'their space' and do not have allowance for interaction and flow .. but hey , it still great to see so much creative energy - something i think everyone would agree we need more of in the world !
If i have a personal gripe it would be that too many artists have no 'content' or 'message' .

richt said...

if you cant use a pencil, use a stencil!!

or you could just not bother at all.

matt said...

its an unfair assumption that someone using a stencil cant draw ! you wouldnt want to stand on the street drawing a picture for a couple of hours when you could stencil it up in a few seconds would you ? that is the power and the joy of stencils .. it is quick .. and the work can be repeated .. its a means to an end aint it!?
at the ned of day - like everything else in art - it is a tool and it is down to how you use it ...
its bullshit to diss the method just because alot of people try and use it .. equally daft to say pencils are crap because most people using one cant draw for shit ..

Acerone said...

More fair points raised here - some i agree with, others not so much...

But anyway. Hats off to Steve and UPfest crew, undoubtedly they put in a whole lot of effort to stage the event and fair play to them, you cant shake the enthusiasm those guys have.

And i like the 'open to all' vibe of the UPfest. I was painting pretty much next to the 13 year old lad who put in a serious amount of effort to paint his section and good on him. The area for kids to have a go in was also a nice touch - i like the fact that this event is so accessible to so many.

I have spoken to a few writers (in the traditional graff sense) and they decided not to get involved with UPfest as it wasn't what they felt represented them. Again, fair play. If you want to keep traditional graffiti to a 'graff jam' or Bedmo or somewhere with less permission that is cool with me. The UPfest is a chance for anyone to get involved so the decision is up to the artists to decided if they want to paint there or not...

Im not the biggest fan of the whole stencil thing but props are given where they are due. I have big love for Dan's work, especially the large scale stuff. The Alice in Wonderland style piece on Westmorland House was awesome... But i remember Xenz once writing on his blog that the real art in stenciling is the stencil itself - the piece of card that you have spent hours carving and cutting and sweating over - that is the work of art. I tend to agree.

On a mission around Jamaica St studios last Sunday i saw some work form an artist who cuts intricate patterns out of street maps and then hangs them on windows so the light shines through and highlights the negative spaces - they were some very impressive alternative versions of stencil art.

jodytee said...

I personally have nothing against stencils per ce - I experimented with them back in the late 80's and as I have said before I remember vividly being roughed up and laughed at down in barton hill up by graf writers as it was considered 'cheating' back then - that's almost ironic now. The thing about stencils is this: they are a delivery method, the idea/content should be the focus. Apart from a few artists like Dan and C214 where the intricacy and scale is more central the 'bite' should be the statement, visual pun or straight out joke. Cutting out a picture of Marilyn or Jimi doesn't really cut it in my humble opinion. Pun intended.

I agree with Acer that Upfest caters for everybody - everyone gets to be part of the scene which to a newbie or outsider could be looked upon as hideously cliquey. There was good and bad there last weekend - I guess everyone gets their spot and they do what suits their 'steez man' wether they walk away and feel happy with what they've done or just feel good to be part of it I guess is their perogative.

There are of course 2 blokes from Bristol, one in particular that has taken stencil art to a level as yet unsurpassed - but both of them understand that the content is key, the fact that it's executed by spraying paint through holes in a piece of cardboard is neither here nor there.

jodytee said...

I also meant to say that stencils were essentially designed to get your point or statement across in seconds so as not to get nicked...

FOUNDRY said...

Definately a well thought out piece, and to be quite frank, what a refreshing change to hear people actually talk about the scene with balance and intelligence and both objective and subjective viewpoints, too many jumping to hasty assertions at the moment.

I agree with most of what has been said by Sarah and Jody so won't repeat it but,
I've got to say that overall I had a great weekend in Bristol but as Jody said I think I was fortunate in being put alongside not only an amazingly talented bunch but a bunch that were definately in the same mindset as myself. As a northerner, the fact that we all bought rounds said everything! We all wanted it to look sweet, full stop....everything can always be better but it had some balance and thematically at least linked.
The fact that Boyd actually tidied up the top of my piece (mainly because he thought I wasn't gonna show after a heavy night!) and didn't just chuck it on, cut back a little tip in black where my stripes ran across and finished it sweet, which not only said that he had respect for my work but that he wanted it to look good as part of the whole. I would have done it anyway but he just did it no questions, needed doin, it's not mine, but do it. What a great work ethic! More importantly we had a laugh and the locals made it feel all the better with their compliments and genuine love of what we were doing. It felt like a community project and that it was actually going to affect people (a cliche I know but still)

The night before I went to Bristol I said to myself, you know what, I've had it with this bullshit and was gonna go it alone after UPFEST and not bother painting with other people if at all and have an 18 year 'Jody' break but having met and painted with that little group it has actually also reaffirmed for me why I enjoyed painting in the first place. Speaking to Jody who introduced me to some of the old school writers made me feel all was not lost.........thankyou

There's too much hating goin on for my likin but I reckon the 'Bristol flow' definately has something to do with less haters and a lot more .....errr lovers. So to speak! But you know what I mean, a healthy respect and support. True collaboration. You could see it at Dean Lane. Sweet.

I hope I can come back down soon and paint something the right way up.

Don't stop guys, you got a great scene goin on there, don't lose it.

Jody, Boyd, Dones and Blam what a pleasure and also to Steve, who undertook something massive and managed to pull it off. You have to respect the logistical nightmare he had to contend with. It was mixed but pretty democratic. The artists have to decide what they do with it not the organisers, it was unfortunate that so many artists isolated themselves and I definately wanted to see more collaboration going on but some people just did not want to or were too restricted to be able to. What a shame but hey that's their choice......some of the work was worse for it and too weak to stand alone but I have also recently made comments about the medium of stencils being more restrictive due to their very nature, that doesn't mean you can't be creative with them but use them for what they are good at Fast, clean, repetition. The cutting is the skill and it needs to be some serious cutting to impress me, have a sound content or function within the piece as a whole, maclaim for example?
There is only so much you can do with any medium but stencils are undoubtedly more restrictive than freehand. I also used to cut stencils but fell out of love with the process. It just didn't satisfy me and when I knew a machine could do it better than I ever could it just didn't seem worth it. I get bored too easily and to be honest there is too much stuff out there and in my mind to keep painting the same thing over.
The haven't invented a machine to freehand paint yet and make spontaneous decisions....

Thanks again, I'll be back, if I'm allowed!!

richt said...

there are stencil artists whose work i appreciate, i'm not gonna name em all, but people like klingatron, dan, c215, fair play!

but if i see one more policeman fisting a nun or ghandi with an M16 i am gonna lose my mind.

juliankimmings said...

Personally I was blown away and honored to take part alongside folk like Rocket, Jody, Demane to name just a few. I haven't painted 'street' for over a decade and even then I was utterly crap, I couldn't outline for shit so my pieces were more sketchy which at the time was considered 'wack'... now it seems a perfectly fine style.
I went along entirely sure that I'd stand out like a sore thumb with my brushes and acrylic paints, but everyone I met (with one or two exceptions) were very friendly and welcoming. I wast utterly blown away by the reaction I got to my tiny 4x4' painting. I never expected that.
What you have to remember is this wasn't a graffiti jam, it was a paint festival in aid of charity. The North Street garage was also a last minute venue due to the bad weather, so to be fair, it may have looked like a car crash but hats off to the organizers and artists who just got on with it... the car park at the back had some pretty sweet 'freehand' work going on too.
At the end of the day I hope Steve and the gang manage to raise awareness and some much needed cash for a worthy charity.

Upfestival said...

Hey one and all,

It's been great to read some well balanced discussion on upfest. We tend to get either 'it was amazing' or 'it was crap', so listening to well founded feedback is great for the festival.

This was our second stab at Upfest with just 8 months between the two festivals, each time we have learnt a great deal.

My personal experience of trying to get into the scene has led to the ethos of open to one and all, this wont change, but does lead to positivs and negatives. On the upside you get Numb (13 years old) painting next to some of the most experienced urban artists around, at least getting one kid away form his playstation for a day :). On the downside, mixing and jaming gets hindered... We are going to work on ways to improve this for next year and try and get a real Upfest Mash-up going on.

The second thing that no one has really mentioned is that we didn't get permission to paint the inside of the garage until 10am on the morning of the festival. This was due to the weather,and yes it was frantic on the day, but reflecting on what had been created on the sunday was a real pleasure.

From reading all your feedback, things will be improved for next year, ie less locations, more cover and a proper artist plan distributed before the event so more artists get the oppertunity to colaberate.... (even the stencilists)...

There always has and always will be a gap between differnt styles, ie graff / stencilists / pasters etc, we are probably never going to achieve harmony, but we will continue to try and help each group appreciate each others art form...

One last thing, the £4 on the gate is a necessity, almost 6k was spent on boarding / materials / spray paint for artists. We have raised 4k for the charity, but this was only possible through a very reasonable gate charge for a full day of live art and music.

Once again, massive thanks for all the feedback, here's to an even better Upfest'10...