Eagle eyed York residents will have spotted one. It might have been a colourful abstract livening up a dull brick wall, a stark monochrome stencil of a kingfisher, or a silhouette of a girl with the slogan “The loneliness is killing me”.
Or you might have stumbled across a static snail bad mouthing the French, or even a yellow plastic duck declaring its independence via a placard.
If so, you have witnessed a Phil Streetart original.
Phil started adorning the streets of York with his original artworks in May 2012. More than 50 works later – not to mention 50 snails – he is still going strong.
So who is this York Banksy, with an interest in molluscs? Here are our questions, and Phil’s answers…
Tell us everything. Real name, age, background…
I prefer to keep my identity and background private.
I did not start the project for personal fame and publicity and I think the project is all the more interesting for it. Should the time come when a wealthy philanthropist would like to reward me for my services to art, I would be happy to reveal myself.
When did you become interested in art, and how did that interest develop?
Strangely enough I do not have an artistic background or education, I am completely self-taught.
About eight years ago I went out and bought a set of paints, some brushes and paper and just started painting. Initially, I started copying paintings in the style of the impressionists and post impressionists, particularly Monet and Van Gogh.
My interest has developed through the study of art and of artists. I really enjoy learning about the different types of artistic movements and I believe this is an important process for any artist before they can find their own style.
My own work has evolved through practice, experimentation and perhaps more importantly pushing myself to be creative. I am a firm believer that creativity breeds creativity and if you push yourself to come up with new ideas, your work will reflect this and stay fresh.
Who influences you and who are your favourite artists?
I am influenced and inspired by many things. Sometimes it can be an image in a magazine, lyrics from a song or even a line from a movie.
Since I have been working on my street art project I have also come to realise just how inspirational the streets are. A wall is no longer just a wall, but a canvas to interact with it in a certain way.
Monet and Van Gogh have no doubt influenced me as an artist, as have the expressionist artists such as Heckel and Kirchner, along with, Picasso and more recently Damien Hirst. Since I have been working on my street art project I have really enjoyed and without doubt been inspired by the work of the street artists Herakut and of course Banksy.
What sparked the idea for the Street Art Project?
I was out walking one day, when I noticed a wall which had a piece of ivy growing around it creating an archway. I remember thinking that would be a great place to hang one of my canvases. The next day I was back with a hammer, picture hook and a canvas and my Street Art Project had begun.
What are your aims?
Quite simple really, I want to put artwork where it would not normally be and to bring enjoyment and a smile to those who see it.
I want people to see something different on the streets and when they find one of my artworks, I hope it is an enjoyable experience that brightens their day and makes them want to tell people about it.
Day to day life can become monotonous, so I hope my project brings a bit of variety and interest to those who stumble across one of my pieces.
There is also a social experiment to the project. I am interested in what people’s reactions will be to the work and whether the work will be left for everyone to enjoy, damaged or taken.
Which have been your favourite pieces of street art so far?
A successful piece of street art interacts with its existing environment, so my favourite piece of street art is probably the original snail, with his message of, “Boycott the French”.
I was a few weeks into the project when I spotted a snail on a graffiti strewn wall of an underpass and I remember thinking to myself, “what would he be writing if he could write a piece of graffiti?”
When the idea for the wording popped into my head I promised myself I would write it on the underpass next to the snail if he was still there the next time I walked past him. Fortunately for me, he was and the snail street art was born.
How have people reacted?
The American artist Andres Serrano once said, “Any reaction is better than indifference” and as a fellow artist I would go along with that.
Saying that, people who take the time to e-mail me generally do so because they like what I am doing. I received an e-mail from someone recently who told me it always makes her day when she manages to spot a new addition. For me, that is why I do it.
As for negative reaction, as far as I am aware, only three of my pieces have been vandalised and I even managed to re-cycle one of those pieces. Someone had ripped one of my canvases, so I placed a snail on top of the ripped canvas and gave him a sign exclaiming, “Only half-wits destroy art!”
A lot of the street art does get taken, which is disappointing and the social experiment has not established whether people take the art because it is there and available, or whether they take it because they like it so much they want to hang it on their walls. I have an amusing vision that it is just one person who follows me around taking the art, in which case their house now resembles The Phil’s Street Art Project Gallery.
Is art on the street different to art in a gallery?
Yes, it’s free to view.
When will you finish, and what next?
As long as I am enjoying creating the art and people are enjoying looking at it, I will carry on doing it, perhaps casting my net a little bit further than York.
Also, going forward, I probably won’t be quite as prolific as I have been for the first year and I would also like to further develop my style to make the street art more recognisable to me as an artist.
As for what’s next – that would be telling!