Help put Portsmouth street art scene on the map with an app

In Portsmouth it is not unusual to find yourself under the gaze of a giant watchful eye or two.

Saturday, 20th November 2021, 6:00 am
Marie Costa by Dreph on Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth, November 2021. Picture by Chris Broom
Marie Costa by Dreph on Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth, November 2021. Picture by Chris Broom

Thankfully we’re not (quite) living in the world of George Orwell’s 1984. These eyes are the creations of Portsmouth’s best-known exponent of street art – My Dog Sighs.

His murals can be found in all sizes and all over the city – from Hilsea Lido in the north to the Queen’s Hotel in Southsea, and at all points in between – on store shutters, the wall of a printwork, and many more besides. Or perhaps you've seen his Everyman figure on paste-ups dotted around the streets?

But My Dog Sighs is far from the only street artist working in the city.

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Mural by My Dog Sighs and Snub23 on Goldsmith Avenue, Milton

Artworks can be found all over Portsmouth – some in more obvious places than other. Farkfk’s distinctive birds hide in alleyways and on shop fronts, for example. Portsmouth has a small but strong street art scene with a well-connected and inclusive range of both street artists and graffiti writers.

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And this is where Street Art Cities comes in. The free-to-download app has a presence in hundreds of cities across the globe – and now Portsmouth is on there as well.

As people download the app, they can explore what’s already been tagged, follow walking routes, or discover new artworks – hunting them down – and add them to the map themselves.

Street art around the side and back of the former Debenhams building, Palmerston Road, Southsea.

University lecturer Roy Hanney has been helping build up the Portsmouth map after getting more interested in the world of street art when he was involved in the Cursed City transmedia storytelling event which was part of the 2019 Darkfest.

‘Originally we were going to work with street artists to create some paste-ups which would be for this character who was casting a spell on the city,’ recalls Roy. ‘But we couldn't find a street artist to work with because they're often quite solitary souls, so I ended up doing it myself. I kind of dived into the street art world a little bit because of that.

‘Then someone said to me: “You should have a look at this app.” I liked what I saw, so I registered with it, and around early 2020 I started photographing anything I could find and putting it up on the app.

‘It's very user friendly, anyone can register with it, and it builds a database of the artists.

Street art by Roo Abrook on Albert Road, Southsea

‘We've got all of this street art in the city and we can shout about it and we can tell other people and it's a way of documenting something that can be rather ephemeral.

‘It is supposed to be an ephemeral, transitory thing, but muralism has become part of this as well – these huge murals – and they're a bit more permanent.’

Roy, from Southsea, also sees the recent explosion in street art as ‘a precursor to other things’.

‘I imagine in five years time people will be complaining about gentrification!

One of Farkfk's birds, on Albert Road, Southsea

‘But it means there's lots of creative people around, and street art's a very visible sign of that.

‘It takes the other things a little longer to be visible because it needs galleries and exhibitions and events – and things like We Shine.’

Indeed, the mural on the front of today’s Weekend magazine of community leader Marie Costa has been created by street artist Dreph for We Shine, the three-day festival of art and light which finishes today.

Roy adds: ‘The city is in transition, it’s changing and largely thanks to street art. During Covid artists didn’t stay in and surprised us with new work every week.

‘We got several places where they can do their thing and sometimes they come together and do some amazing stuff for the community,’

My Dog Sighs’ recent immersive installation Inside welcomed more than 10,000 people into the world of his little ‘Quiet Little Voices’. The artist says: ‘Be it huge four-storey walls or grimy back alleys, we’ve got it covered. There’s a very diverse range of artists across the city with a strong mix of genres and ages.

A screenshot of Portsmouth in the Street Art Cities app

‘There are street poets, slap-mad sticker artists, those that dip in and out of the scene and stalwarts who’ve been hitting the streets of the city for well over 20 years.

‘We’re also hosts to lots of regular visitors who while not native of the city, do a lot of work here.

‘It’s not unusual to see work from Pogo, Gary stranger, Korp, aroe, Snub23, or irony.’

Street Art Cities began five years ago as a Belgian/Dutch collective when two street art enthusiasts met.

Their shared passion has helped shine a light on this growing international scene.

It is currently active in 900 cities with more 35,000 artworks.

The app is free to download on both Apple and Google Play, or find the web-based version at portsmouth.streetartcities.com.

Roy has also been working with Paul Gonella of Portsmouth arts collective Strong Island to create an Apple Maps street art guide for Portsmouth, which ties in with the app, and is available to view at tinyurl.com/yk9zkuek.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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'Southsea', each letter is painted by a different artist, on Albert Road, Southsea.
Street art in Specks Lane, behind Fratton Park. Picture by Chris Broom
Street art around the back of the former Debenhams building