On 20 August 2017, the Sunday Times declared Leeds the country’s “capital” for street art. This was quite some achievement given competition from the likes of Manchester, Birmingham, and London.
So, how did this much-fought-over accolade come about?
The catalyst was ‘A City Less Grey,’ an innovative urban-art project initiated in November 2016 by East Street Arts (a Leeds-based organisation connecting creative communities).
The venture, fully-funded and supported by Leeds Business Improvement District (BID), was to animate the city and engage the public through a series of art commissions…. and animate it, it did!
Locations for the project were chosen carefully using vacant sites under development and that each had heavy footfall. Semi-permanent and permanent installations were then commissioned at five sites by seven artists, incorporating poignant references to local environments.
From Kirkgate to Vicar Lane, the city sprang into life, culminating in the epic ‘Athena Rising’ owl mural by NOMAD Clan. This statement-piece has caused a stir ever since it was painted the full length of the east elevation of the Platform building next to Leeds train station… you can’t miss it!
This project put Leeds on the map as a city committed to public-art and reinforced how culture and creative industries are vital to the success of a place’s survival.
Yet, this project is only the most recent of many public works. Artists have been working in the city for years, illuminating both unloved nooks and gateway sites alike. Here are just a few a few street-art highlights in Leeds:
Welcome to Leeds, Leeds Outdoor Market
Illustrator and East Street Arts member Nathan Evans painted Welcome to Leeds, his most ambitious mural to date. The huge 30+ meter public artwork, which spans the full length of Leeds Outdoor Market, is a hand-painted typography piece reading ‘Hello & Welcome to Leeds’. Leeds City Council commissioned the project in partnership with LeedsBID.
Kirkgate, First White Cloth Hall Hoardings
The oldest street in Leeds has been the home to a rolling programme of art installations over the last year, changing every four months. Following the abstract mapping and secret Morse-code mural by Kasia Breska, graffiti artist Joe Dickinson created a bold tattoo-design piece linked to the heritage of Leeds (including an owl, Yorkshire rose, and a locomotive design).
SuperLeeds/Windows of Leeds, Leeds Train Station
Located in the unlikely location of the train station, SuperLeeds is a massive glass mural by illustrator Supermundane, designed to change when looked upon from different angles. Here you can also find Windows of Leeds, massive letters that spell out LEEDS on the main concourse, showcasing the work of local artists. These have been used to celebrate different events including the much-publicised MOBO awards.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, White Cloth Gallery, Aire Street
This striking mural of the character Raiden (from the Metal Gear series of games) was commissioned by Japanese developer Konami, and painted by the innovative mural artists EndOfTheLine. It is one of three murals in the UK found in Leeds, Liverpool, and London.
Vicar Lane, Former ABC Cinema Site
This work draws inspiration from local Burmantofts architecture. Artist Mel Holmes used images of Georgian and Victorian edifices and the old ABC cinema, alongside nods to the cinematic work of pioneering filmographer, Louis Le Prince, who shot the world’s first film in Leeds.
Athena Rising, Platform Building
The canvas for the ‘Athena Rising’ installation is Platform; a landmark building recently refurbished to offer a community of workspaces for businesses. The giant artwork stands 46.8m tall and 11m wide. It is now the UK’s tallest piece of street art, larger than Rio de Janeiro’s statue of Christ! The mural was produced by NOMAD Clan, the female street-art duo, Cbloxx and AYLO.
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Welcome to Leeds is created by:Leeds BID