'We are at the birth of a scene': Street art is thriving in Portsmouth

Every day, Portsmouth residents are being treated to a free art show, walking past work potentially worth thousands of pounds, created by internationally recognised artists.

By Richard Lemmer
Monday, 18th November 2019, 1:53 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd November 2019, 4:51 pm
Samo White with their latest street art
Samo White with their latest street art

More and more businesses are paying artists to paint works of graffiti outside their shops and offices and the trend is helping to sustain the flourishing street art scene.

A painting of a pair of pink wings below the words 'you are loved' was unveiled on the side of the Dimples and Daisies photography studio at 10 Grove Road, Southsea, last weekend, as the latest example of social media-savvy businesses and street artists working together.

Street art by Roo Abrook off Albert Road, Southsea. Instagram: @rooabrook

Owner Jennifer Sanchez says: 'The need for an aesthetic is there when you run a business like ours.

'It made sense for our branding and for it to be interactive so people can come down and take a photo with the artwork.

'We're hoping to have a new artwork every three months to keep people coming down.'

The artwork joins the hundreds of street art pieces across Portsmouth, with the close-knit community of artists selling their work around the world and encouraging residents of their home city to take up a spray-can.

A piece of My Dog Sighs street art at Southsea Model Village. Picture: Keith Woodland (190119-5)

Portsmouth is witnessing 'the birth of a scene', according to Samo White, the artist behind the painting on the photography studio.

He says: 'I think at the moment the scene is getting a lot of attention.

'A lot of artists are getting international work. It’s brightening up the city a lot.'

In June, Samo was commissioned by the WorldPride event in New York to create a mural in the city, and in January the artist and tattoo studio owner won the Best Visual Artist award at The Guide Awards.

Graffiti by Fark FK Instagram: @farkfk

More and more businesses are appreciating that a large amount of social media traffic can be generated by commissioning a piece of street art on their premises, according to Mark Jones, most widely known by his graffiti name FRK or Fark,

'As an artist, you can make anywhere between £300 to £3,000 for a piece, with it sometimes taking a few days to create,' he says.

For Roo Abrook, another well-connected member of the Portsmouth street art scene, her work on the streets of Southsea have helped raise her profile and sell her work around the world.

'I'm now represented by a gallery in Bath, and sell my art at affordable art fairs around the world, including Hong Kong and Singapore,' she says.

Street artist Fark brightening up the hoardings at the New Theatre Royal.

Many of the artists fell in love with the street art scene as it exploded in the 1980s – meaning their current age can surprise some people expecting the artists behind the colourful creations to be teenagers.

'We are all old now,' Mark says, 'I think people think we’re kids doing this at night, but we see it as a Sunday afternoon activity.'

And the artists want to share their passion for painting with the next generation keen to pick up a spray can, Samo explains.

'Mark is absolutely wonderful at getting kids to help at the alley off Palmerston Road,' he says, referring to a popular graffiti spot behind Debenhams.

Roo, who turned 50 this year, adds: 'I ran a paste-up street art workshop at Aspex Gallery in September. We had people aged from 13 to their late 60s taking part.

'I'd love to deliver another workshop but they take a lot of organising.'

Graffiti art created by Artformdodger. Instagram: @artformdodger

Students from Highbury College joined Paul Stone, better known as international artist My Dog Sighs, to watch him create one of his distinctive giant eye murals at the Village Hotel, North Harbou, in September, another example of a business commissioning street art.

Graffiti should be 'for the whole community,' says binman Neil Foley, 49, who goes by the name Artform Dodger when working as an artist.

He add: 'You should get kids involved, even to brighten up the corridors in colleges and schools.'

But he worries about the future and the uneven spread of street art across the city.

The Portsea-based artist says: 'Our part of town needs a bit more TLC. A lot of stuff seems to happen in Southsea.

'There's lots of artists across the city, but there needs to be a more even spread of spaces to paint.'

Samo also expresses concerns about the lack of spaces to legally and safely work in public, with two popular spots facing an uncertain future.

He says: 'The walls around Fratton Park are very popular and are one of the few places where its legal to paint.

'But Fratton Park is possibly going to expand, and we might lose the area.'

Portsmouth FC has supported the scene in the past, creating a project called Spray Up Pompey in 2012, which saw local artists and students from Portsmouth University brighten up walls around and within the Fratton Park stadium.

Fears have also been raised about the alley at the back of the Debenhams department store in Palmerston Road, Southsea, which is set to close in 2020.

But the future is still looking bright for artists working on walls across the city.

Mark says: 'We've been inspired by the Cheltenham Art Festival. I'm hoping to work with about 20 other artists to organise a similar street art festival in 2020 in Portsmouth.'

Roo, who is holding an exhibition tonight at Hounds Barbers in Highland Road, Southsea, can see promise in the city’s future as a place where street art can flourish.

She says: ‘It’s a nice community and that's really important.’