170 km west of London and at the gateway to Wales, Bristol will never cease to amaze you. Cradle of Massive Attack and Portishead, but also of Wallace and Gromit, this dynamic student city has become one of the high places of the street art planet. Stroll in an arty, alternative and green city, but also very British, in the footsteps of the graffiti artist Banksy and his acolytes.
Bristol, from trip-hop to street art
On the last weekend of July, the city in southwest England hosts Europe's biggest street art festival, Upfest. For three days, some 250 artists will let aerosols and stencils speak on the 3 m000 of walls made available to them in the neighborhoods of Southville and Bedminster.
If you don't have the chance to attend the event, know that all year round, Bristol lives to the rhythm of urban art. Passionate people are happy to guide the curious through the streets to discover the works of the famous Banksy, the native child, and his graffiti acolytes.
A good way to apprehend the soul of this city with boundless creative energy, which already made a name for itself in the 1990s by launching the trip-hop movement with Massive Attack and Portishead. So, to your sprays, go!
In the footsteps of Banksy
The graffiti hunt begins in the city center. Right in front of College green, where the imposing town hall looks over the no less imposing cathedral, a work by Banksy adorns the wall of a Park street, as a challenge to the establishment.
It was also very close for “Well Hung Lover” (representing a naked man hanging from a window where a couple is framed) from disappearing from the landscape, in 2006, if the inhabitants had not voted in 97% so that she stays in her place.
Not all the achievements of the famous anonymous artist were so lucky. Thus, “Pulling the Plug”, the graffiti that Banksy had affixed to the town hall fountain in 2001 - one of his first deeds of arms - has been erased. No doubt the protest message addressed to the City Council, known at the time for its “zero tolerance” policy in terms of mural expression, had displeased!
Since then, water has flowed under the bridges of the Floating Harbor, and Banksy is today a recognized artist in his hometown. As proof, the great exhibition held in 2009 in the very official Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, attracted 300 visitors in three months. A sculpture donated by the artist is on display in the entrance hall: the “Paint Pot Angel”, an angel whose head is hidden by a pot of dripping pink paint.
Another work by Banksy is in a museum: "Grim Reaper", the armed death of his scythe, which was originally painted on the hull of the Thekla, the legendary cargo ship that hosted concerts by big names in pop and trip-hop in the 1990s, from Pulp to Portishead.
To prevent it from deteriorating, it was moved in 2014 to Mr. Shed, the city's history museum, installed on the quays. The side of the boat, meanwhile, now sports a graffiti signed Inkie, another figure of Bristolian street art, Banksy's early comrade.
The alternative district of Stokes Croft
Going north, we arrive at Nelson Street, one of the most important urban art galleries in Europe. The particularly decrepit street was chosen to host the first “See No Evil” festival in August 2011, coordinated by Inkie and the town hall, who understood that street art could help rehabilitate disadvantaged neighborhoods.
For the event, more than 70 international artists were invited to exercise their talents on the walls, including Bristolian Nick Walker and Californian El Mac. The following year, other graffiti artists made the trip, such as the Italian Pixel Pancho.
A little further on, we enter the territory of the People's Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC), a “republic” of a new kind, working for the culture and the local economy (in “do it yourself” version) in the district of Stokes Croft.
Artist collectives, community restaurants and independent shops have brought abandoned buildings back to life, and all these little people are fighting tooth and nail against any enemy incursion of multinationals, the slogan being "Think local".
To immerse yourself in this alternative and bohemian atmosphere, do not hesitate to go for a snack at The Canteen, a restaurant that serves organic and local dishes and is part of the Slow Food movement.
There is also the Banksy brand, whose famous "Mild Mild West" (a teddy bear preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail at the police) overlooks the terrace, facing the Jesus breakdancer by London artist Cosmo Sarson. , on the opposite wall.
In the Jamaica Street, you won't be able to miss the People's Republic of Stokes Croft open-air gallery, a long wall covered with frescoes.
The countryside in Bristol
Still further north, a surprise awaits us. After taking a little altitude - Bristol is a city of hills - you arrive in the residential area of Montpelier, very wooded, where one can also spot frescoes and graffiti.
The city center is not far, but you already have the impression of being in the countryside. An impression that is confirmed when the St. Werburghs City Farm, an authentic urban farm where an extraordinary community experience is played out. We grow vegetables there, we breed animals, all organic, of course.
Amazing mansions have been built, some in the spirit of Gaudí. In the Hobbit-style café, you can warm up with organic soup, or have a drink on the terrace if the weather is nice. And of course, art has its place here, with many frescoes painted on the surrounding walls.
But don't think that only the north of the city is a fan of street art. If Stokes Croft remains the historic district of urban art, graffiti artists have found a new playground south of the Avon River.
The City Council, which owns the building, has promised to do what is necessary to protect Banksy's drawing. As we can see, times have changed, and street art has a definite future in Bristol, where a wind of gentle creative madness is blowing more than ever. With an ounce of subversive spirit, which gives residents the energy to invent a city apart, in their image.
To prepare your stay, consult our England online guide
Bristol Tourist Office
British Tourist Board
Bristol Street Art Tour. The Where the Wall team organizes guided street art tours in Bristol (around 2 hours), Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. Adult: £ 9,20, child: £ 4,80. For those who do not speak English well, there is the possibility of taking the tour in the company of a French-speaking Bristol artist, Ollie Gillard, whose works can also be admired south of the River Avon (www.gagegraphics.co.uk). On reservation.
Upfest Bristol 2015. Festival from July 25 to 27. www.upfest.co.uk. Free.
How to get there ?
Daily flight Paris-Bristol (1 h 15), with EasyJet. Book your plane ticket.
The city is easily explored on foot, but also by bicycle, one of the favorite means of transport for Bristolians. Attention: here, we drive on the left.
In the city center, at No. 1 Harborside, you can rent vintage-looking Pashley Bikes at Cycle the city. Prices: £ 20 a day, £ 12 a half-day.
Where to eat, have a drink?
The Canteen, 80 Stokes Croft. One of the nerve centers of the Stokes Croft district. We eat organic and local (dishes between £ 5 and £ 10), and drink drinks in the evening while listening to music.
The Bell, 18 Hillgrove Street, Stokes Croft. This pub very committed to the promotion of street art is the headquarters of artists, DJ's and musicians.
M Shed, Bristol City History Museum, where Banksy's 'Grim Reaper' is on display. Harborsite, free entry.
Thekla, The Grove, East Mud Dock. To see (from afar) the mermaid drawn by Inkie on the side of the boat or attend a concert.
St. Werburghs City Farm, Watercress Road. Bristol Urban Farm.