YORK public art pioneers Art Of Protest Projects and The York BID are collaborating on a street art series of murals to “honour and elevate pandemic key workers from York”.
They are working with The Postman, the anonymous international street artist collective tasked with creating the ancient city’s first urban art installation to celebrate the Guardians Of York, who helped to keep York moving when the city – and the world – came to a standstill during Covid-19 lockdowns.
Inviting people back into the city once Lockdown 3 eases, Jeff Clark, director of Art of Protest Projects, says: “Helping people to realise the difference that urban art can make to a town or city, through its presence in York, has been something we’ve been working towards for a long time.
“To be able to do it with such outstanding artists like The Postman, as well as our homegrown heroes, was beyond anything I could have imagined when we first set out.”
Eleven essential workers, all of them York residents, were recorded by a professional film crew in the closed Debenhams store in Davygate, giving their account of the hardships of working through the upheaval created by the pandemic, and all had their portrait photographs taken.
Taking part were: Becky Arksy, primary school teacher; Pauline Law, police officer; Sally and Mark Waddington, York Rescue Boat; Martin Golton, street cleaner, and Steve Wasowa, ICU doctor, York District Hospital.
So too were: Steve and Julia Holding, owners of the Pig and Pastry, in Bishopthorpe Road, and founders of the Supper Collective; Steven Ralph, postal worker; Gill Shaw, Boots retail worker, and Brenna Hebrink, ICU nurse, York District Hospital.
Their images have been transformed into murals by The Postman collective, whose favoured artistic medium is pop-culture paste-ups, rooted in punk, wherein they express themselves in brightly coloured, edgy, urban portraits, varying from street artworks of Nelson Mandela in South Africa to pop stars in Los Angeles.
“As the Guardians project builds momentum, we realise more and more how important it is to tell the stories of the people behind the masks,” say the mystery duo with roots in graffiti culture. “The key workers that have carried us through the last year inspired us and made a difference to everybody’s lives.”
The Guardians Of York will be displayed on city-centre walls in a three-month installation from April 9 to July 9, in a show of gratitude to key workers timed to coincide with the relaxation of lockdown restrictions and the reopening of many of the city’s “non-essential” businesses, potentially from April 12.
Recalling the dissolving street art of York memorial artist Dexter, The Postman will be applying their paper-based large-scale artworks to walls with wheat paste, their impermanent form of art fading and washing away over time, duly creating a buzz as people seek them out before they disappear.
Jeff Clark has worked closely with Andrew Lawson, executive director of York BID (Business Improvement District), who says: “The BID has supported a couple of street art projects in the city over the past few years and its new five-year business plan outlines how it would like to provide more support in this area.
“The Guardians Of York is an apt project to kick off reopening in 2021, as it will add a splash of colour to the city, while reminding the public of those local heroes who have worked hard to keep us all safe.”
Jeff’s art and media company delivers large and small-scale exhibitions, murals and projects, both nationally and globally, but he was particularly keen to bring alive a new project in his home city, where he previously invited Static – alias Scarborough street art duo Craig Evans and Tom Jackson – to construct murals on the floor of the Art Of Protest gallery, in Little Stonegate, at Brew York, Walmgate, and down a Coney Street alleyway in October 2018.
“By nature I’m a bit of a hippie, but I have the connections to deliver on my beliefs, working on projects in London, New York and Los Angeles ” says Jeff, whose upcoming ideas stretch to creating an open-air museum and laser art (that will not be mere pie in the sky).
“I don’t see why I can’t bring my ideas to my home city, so that’s why I’m working with Andrew Lawson, discussing at length how we might implement such ideas, starting with this installation trail with high impact for three months.
“Projects could look at York heroes of the past, but it would be churlish at the moment to do right now when the biggest heroes are our key workers.”
Jeff was keen too to break away from the prevailing images of such workers. “Rather than having yet more tired faces, we want to remind people that there is hope and a path out of this pandemic.
“It is a world of fear, love and compassion, but these portraits not only show us that, yes, these workers do work that keeps the world going round, but they go home to their families, and they all want to make the world a better place than they came into.”
Mounting the Guardians Of York is a passion project for Jeff and The Postman. “They like to do street art that makes a difference, and my partner is an NHS frontline worker, so I’ve seen every day how Covid has worn them down, sacrificing their own health. It’s no wonder that nurses have gone down, had to stop working, because they’re frazzled,” he says.
“They’ve had to go into a war-like atmosphere, where normally you’d do a tour and then be sent home, for a break, but that’s not been the case. That’s why my heart and soul has gone into this project.”
Let the last word go to project participant Brenna Hebrink, ICU nurse and project support manager to boot. “Telling my story in such a real and raw way has helped me to understand the weight of this year, and to reflect on all the highs and lows,” she says.
“Beyond that, it’s made me feel like I’m part of a community, a collective of people that have not stopped going.”
To watch a video about the project, go to: https://youtu.be/7cUpnE1M-sw
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