New paintings add colour to Portsmouth’s ever-growing street art scene

200323 Street art Meridian
The new artworks on boards outside Hilsea Lido Credit: ITV Meridian

In a small corner of Portsmouth there are bright and shimmering works of art where there was once nothing. A swimmer mid-stroke. An ocean liner. A Bollywood actress. It’s the latest example of the city's thriving and growing street art scene.

An 80 metre long hoarding at Hilsea Lido has been transformed by about ten artists. It's been funded by levelling-up cash and is part of a wider scheme to reshape and enhance Hilsea Lines.

Portsmouth’s street art is partly driven by internationally-renowned names such as My Dog Sighs who has also been repainting his piece on the lido wall.

His distinctive works featuring eyes can be seen on walls across the City. There are also huge murals by other artists such as the pelican in Upper Arundel Street and the Southsea city map.

One of the new pieces at Hilsea Lido takes shape

Some are commissions but there are many small and intimate paintings adorning back alleys and disused buildings. Many of these are in spaces where landlords and owners have given permission - such as the former Debenhams department store in Southsea.

Roo Abrook, who is one of the Hilsea artists, has some of her images of women there.

She said: "I work mainly in portraiture. I use a lot of drawings and photographs of women and I am pushing strong women really and looking at beauty and ageing. And really to put it on the street is opening it up to everyone. I do sell  in galleries but obviously only certain people go to galleries whereas on the street anyone and everyone is going to see it so it's great."

"For the Southsea artists it's the social aspect that's really important because as an artist you work on your own quite a bit and you can suffer from cabin fever so I think it's a good way of being social and bouncing ideas off each other."

  • Roo Abrook has worked on display in galleries and on city walls

There are examples of street art in more than thirty locations.

Roy Hanney is a lecturer at Solent University and has long followed the art scene in Portsmouth.

"When you look at graffiti and street art you have to see a whole subculture," he said.

"This is people communicating and place making. Creating an identity for themselves and the city.

"For a lot of street artists they probably started as taggers, developed some skills and then maybe moved into other areas of art. For other artists the street is really a calling card for themselves as artists and practitioners. What you can start to see is a conversation between different artists and different skill sets and it's quite fascinating."

"Some artists are professionals and they earn their money from doing commissions but then you walk down this alley on a Sunday afternoon and there will be someone painting. And that someone might be someone who is a teacher or an accountant and this is a pastime or passion. So a range of people. If you go to areas where there is quite a lot of graffiti art you might find these are young people. But you could find someone who has been doing it a long time and is well established."

  • Artist 'Fark' is one of Portmouth's well-known street artists

One very well established Portsmouth artist goes by the name of "Fark" and says there is a strong and tight community of artists.

"It just seems to be there are an awful lot of us here creating a big scene" he said.

"Street artists, graffiti artists, sticker artists, everything. It's fantastic. The more people who are creative the better it is I think. Be it on the street or whatever creative vibe is yours. I would say the majority of the public thoroughly enjoy it. They come to look and see what's new. It's sort of ever changing which is one of the really good things about it. There can be something there one day and then it could be gone the next. Exciting times."

Other public spaces where artists have also been given free rein to paint include parts of Fratton Park. A lot of the art there is graffiti based and that can divide opinion. Then there are the taggers who spray can their own initials on work that's been done by others.

This alley in Southsea has art that can be located via the Street Art app.

So when is it art and when is it an ugly mess that needs cleaning up?

"That's to some extent subjective", said Cllr Steve Pitt, Portsmouth's Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure, and Economic Development.

"When it's good it's art and when it's done with the right motivations behind it. There are different landowners giving different permissions. The emphasis should always be that the artist gets permission for what they are doing and then you can have a fantastic result at the end of it. In general this is lifting the city, it's making it feel loved and it's adding to our sense of community."

The Portsmouth Street Art Cities app now allows people to take their own tour and  discover hidden gems alongside some of the most notable pieces of street art. They can also post updates as to whether art works are still there or have been covered over.

  • Roy Hanney from Solent University follows Portsmouth's street art scene

Social media is playing an increasingly important part in the process according to Roy Hanney.

"There has always been a strong relationship between what we call catchers who are photographers who go out and photograph street art and the street artists", he said.

"So that relationship has always been there. But what we have seen with Instagram is that it's almost like artists are putting stuff up waiting for it to be tagged on Instagram and there is a really vibrant exchange and community there.

“It’s so ephemeral. Here today and gone tomorrow. If it isn't documented there is a sense that we lose it."

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