Street art with a mes­sage

For the last five years, mu­rals of threat­ened and en­dan­gered birds have been ap­pear­ing on build­ings around Lon­don. Street artist ATM ex­plains just what he wants his art to achieve

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Mu­rals of birds and wildlife not only brighten an area, they come with a con­ser­va­tion mes­sage, too

Look Mummy, it’s a bear!” It’s not some­thing you hear of­ten on the streets of Bris­tol, but it’s a bear sure enough, lead­ing its cubs along the city’s Clift House Road. At least it will be when the artist has put the fin­ish­ing touches to this eight-foot high mu­ral. As the car pulls away from the traf­fic lights, with the lit­tle boy lean­ing out the pas­sen­ger win­dow, the man with the paint brush darts across the road to check on his creation. “At this stage, I need to make sure I’m get­ting the per­spec­tive and pro­por­tions right,” he ex­plains. “I want the im­age to have bal­ance and a real sense of mo­men­tum.”

ATM was one of 400 artists who took part in Bris­tol’s Upfest, the big­gest street art fes­ti­val in Europe. Huge mu­rals, many fea­tur­ing cul­tural icons as di­verse as Lisa Simp­son and Frida Kahlo, went up all over the city, but ATM’S work has its fo­cus firmly on con­ser­va­tion. “Go back a thou­sand years and there would have been bears roam­ing around Bri­tain, but no-one’s pulling their hair out that they aren’t here any­more,” he says. “I want to get peo­ple think­ing about why that’s the case.” And peo­ple do stop to chat and watch as he paints the heavy fur hang­ing from the mother bear, with a brush taped to the end of a long dec­o­ra­tor’s pole.

Street art with a con­ser­va­tion mes­sage, he says, has the power to en­gage a new au­di­ence: “We need im­agery in places like shop­ping cen­tres, paint­ings of en­dan­gered birds in ur­ban set­tings. “My work isn’t preach­ing to the con­verted; I’m talk­ing to peo­ple who may have lit­tle idea about wildlife. “I was paint­ing a Chaffinch at Lough­bor­ough Junc­tion and these kids said: “What’s that, a King­fisher?” and that was my op­por­tu­nity to talk about it. Later that day, two blokes drove past in their work van and shouted “Nice Chaffinch, mate!” and that re­ally sur­prised me.” He pulls out his mo­bile phone and swipes to a photo of the bird. “You can see that it’s now been tagged all the way round by lo­cal graf­fiti artists, but they’ve left the bird un­touched,” he says. “There’s a rhythm to it: the bird has be­come part of its ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment.”

How it be­gan

His first avian mu­ral of a Snipe, five years ago, showed build­ings could be a sur­pris­ingly for­giv­ing can­vas. “I never thought I’d be able to paint the birds quick enough to make it fea­si­ble on that scale. “With a small paint­ing ev­ery mil­lime­tre is

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Above Long-eared Owl painted in Chalk Farm, Lon­don, as a plea for the plant­ing of more dense copses in hous­ing de­vel­op­ments

Above Mis­tle Thrush in Green­wich as part of a cam­paign against coun­cils sell­ing off pub­lic land for devel­op­ment

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