Meet the Portsmouth founder and artists who are decorating a Fratton street during lockdown

Like most good ideas, they can spring from the most unlikely of places. For Southsea graphic designer and curator Annabel Innes, that lightbulb moment happened when she was driving in Fratton.

By Annie Lewis
Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 9:51 am

What started as a small idea has now transformed into a huge project called Covid-19 Art Ads which is bringing some of Portsmouth’s best artists together to brighten a once empty street with motivational and encouraging artworks during lockdown.

‘It initially started when I saw so many empty billboards in Goldsmith Avenue. I knew Billboard Media owned them and I quickly pulled together a design proposal plan and sent it to them,’ says Annabel, 34.

‘I thought it would be really nice to see artwork encouraging people to keep going, stay safe, and support each other.

Founder of Covid-19 Art Ads, Annabel Innes. Picture: Josh Wasserman

‘I honestly did not expect a reply but within an hour they called me. They thought it was fantastic and were happy to be involved.’

She laughs and says: ‘They offered me all five billboards and told me their print deadline was the following day. I said I would have art ready for the next deadline.’

Annabel was also inspired by drawings of rainbows in windows.

She says: ‘A little boy who lives across the street from me had drawn one and put it in his window.

Artwork on billboards by Harry Roberts, @harry_roberts_art, (left) and FarkFK, @FarkFK. Picture: Karl Bailey.

‘I wrote him a letter to say I loved his drawing and it made me smile whenever I looked out the window.

‘His mum wrote back saying he was chuffed that I liked his drawing. Since then, he’s put up another great drawing in his window. I think that partly inspired this project too.’

Annabel, who has worked on other several campaigns with brands such as Nike and Uniqlo, is used to meeting deadlines and knows what works in the art industry. She says: ‘I’m a strong advocate for bringing people together and using the powerful effect of collaboration. This project is something I am really into because it uses my skill set.

‘In Portsmouth, there’s a wide array of illustrators, photographers and artists – everybody was bringing something different to the table.’

Close up of artwork by Harry Roberts, @harry_roberts_art. Picture: Solent Sky Services

There are currently three waves of artwork, all with a duration of two weeks, with the second wave being installed on May 6 and the third on May 20.

‘I wanted to give everyone an opportunity to get involved. We have five boards and the number of artists who want to be part of it has exceeded that,’ explains Annabel.

The artists who contributed to the first wave of art are Harry Roberts, FarkFK, Lex Luthor (All Caps), and Petting Zoo.

FarkFK, the artist behind the rainbow seagull print, says he thought the project was ‘absolutely amazing’. The 48-year-old from Southsea says: ‘I remember I watched the news one night and had a complete meltdown. I took a break from the news and got back to painting a couple of days later.

Close up of FarkFK's artwork, @FarkFK. Picture: Solent Sky Services

‘Art helps everybody – you can tell that just by seeing the amount of NHS rainbows in people’s windows.’

He adds: ‘I was absolutely stoked when I saw the art. The printers and installation team did a fantastic job. I’m glad there is something on the billboards now – it was like something out of Armageddon.

‘I have a couple of mates at QA who drive past them to get to work and they have messaged me saying “thank-you”. But this isn’t about me. It’s about the people out there fighting. This is just something small we can do for them.’

Artist Lex Luthor’s blue NHS piece is also featured in the first wave.

The 44-year-old, from Southsea, has more than 20 years experience in the design industry and now works as a screen printer at Sea Dog studio.

She says: ‘Annabel contacted me after seeing a design I’d put on Instagram – the image that became the final billboard.

Artwork on billboards by Petting Zoo, @pzprints, left, and Lex Luthor, Picture: Habibur Rahman.

‘Community spirit is important right now. If people feel a little bit happier when they see my funny blue character shouting ‘NH Yes!’, then I’m pleased.’

The installation of second-wave artwork will start on May 6. Karl Bailey – one of the only photographers currently featured – says he’s ‘really excited’. Karl, 29, explains: ‘I found it really hard to pick one picture. I am a film photographer and it’s rare any negatives are blown up that big.

‘Annabel and I talked a lot about the picture I picked. It reflects the city and life during normal circumstances to hopefully make others remember what we will get back to at some point.’

He smiles and says: ‘I’m not the boastful type, but I am definitely proud of this.’

Kingston-based freelance artist Roo has started sketching her designs to be featured in the third wave at the end of May. The 37-year-old says: ‘I have travelled down to Southsea a few times for art events. It’s a really cool place.

‘I think the first wave was really cool. I loved Fark’s piece – it was so brilliant, happy, bold and colourful. It made me smile.

‘I have one concept in mind to highlight the delivery workers and also the bin men and women. They do really great jobs and we would be lost without them.’

Annabel says since the project started she has had nothing but positive feedback. She admits: ‘It’s been quite emotional seeing everyone’s response on social media.

‘We are at the mercy of Billboard Media. I would like for it to continue but we understand that they might have to take back full-paying clients soon.

‘Now I’m looking for sponsors to fund the next two waves.

‘A lot of people say I’m working all the time. But when you love something it doesn’t feel like work. It’s a pleasure talking to artists.’

Money talks

Billboard Media freely donated their five billboards along Goldsmith Avenue. But to fund the first wave of the project, Annabel had to raise £3,000 via the platform Kickstarter. In six days, they surpassed their target by raising £3,426.

Annabel says: ‘It covered the printing and installation, production costs of the rewards and Kickstarter’s fees.

‘Using Kickstarter in the first wave gave us an opportunity to connect with the community, engage them in the project from the very start, and create a surge of excitement.

‘Now we’ve been able to demonstrate the ripple effect of positivity, we’re seeking the funding for waves two and three from local businesses and sponsors.’

If you would be interested in sponsoring, contact Annabel on [email protected], 07703 051 535 or Instagram @covid19artads. ​

Close up of artwork by Petting Zoo, @pzprints. Picture: Solent Sky Services.
Close up of artwork by Lex Luthor at All Caps, Picture: Solent Sky Services