STREET art and graffiti are popular all around Manchester but especially in the Northern Quarter where artwork brightens up the streets and advertises the work of some of the city’s best artists.

The quality and the type of graffiti in Manchester have progressed though since it first started appearing on walls in the city. A group called Outhouse Manchester even arrange for different artists to paint the same area of the Northern Quarter every three months to inspire other artists.

The public view on graffiti has always been mixed though with some people seeing it as a way of people expressing themselves and others see it as vandalism.

One artist who has seen the graffiti culture in Manchester evolve is kELzO, who has been painting since graffiti first became popular in 1984.

He first became known in the early 1990s when he turned Hulme into one of Europe’s biggest outdoor galleries after it was condemned for demolition to make way for the Manchester Universities.

He explained: “I started painting the boards on the flats so the squatters wouldn’t get in. I remember painting all the time and before you know it someone is asking who is doing it and I was inundated with requests.”

When graffiti first became popular everyone wanted to be involved, kELzO said: “the hip hop culture of break dancing, graffiti, emceeing and DJing came over from the USA and went right across Europe to become popular in the same way One Direction the pop group have today.”

With the rise in hip hop culture, the youth of Manchester who were unable to break dance or couldn’t afford DJ decks tried their hand at graffiti by spraying their names on to walls and railway bridges where people would see them.

Things changed though when graffiti artist Banksy became famous, kELzO explained: “When the general public started to fall in love with his concept then people started to create art that was somewhat understood by the masses.”

Banksy’s style was stencil work and art with more significance than a name written in bubble letters. His artwork tells stories or sends a message, which was something that graffiti artists had never considered before.

Art that has underlying meanings and bright colourful murals are now favoured by many street artists in Manchester. Most artists have a particular style although they experiment with other techniques and try to improve their work.

There are active artists especially around the Northern Quarter area who will regularly paint over their own work to send different messages, some that are obvious to the public and some that are more personal to the artist.

The gallery below shows some of the current artwork around Manchester:

Many artists keep themselves anonymous or use a made up name and hide their identity for different reasons: some because graffiti is still considered a crime and others because they just want to create art for fun rather than fame.

After being the graffiti and street art scene for so long, kELzO now does a lot more work with young people than he does creating art. With a new generation of wannabe street artists, he said: “There’s so much that people wanting to be graffiti artists today have to learn and there aren’t any real schools. There are young people today who want to be graffiti artists without being vandals.”

kELzO works to use what he produces for good rather than for advertising or protesting authority as some graffiti artists do. He aims to bring happiness through his work: “If I’ve got people laughing, smiling and giggling at what I’m producing and I’ve cheered their day up, that’s what I’m all about.”

He also does work for various charities and is currently doing work for The Christie by doing sessions with children battling cancer. He says he likes to bring fun to the sessions: “I do my best to make sure they’re having a good time and a really good experience.”

kELzO along with other Manchester based artists have worked to change the face and the reputation around Manchester by making it more about art and expression rather than vandalism and criminal damage.

It is hoped that future generations of street artists in Manchester will build on the work of kELzO and other celebrated artists in the area to keep the streets bright and colourful.

By Emily Wilson

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