Since 2011, a self-funded public art project has developed into an international phenomenon, a way to transform an area into a well-loved reflection of the feelings, beliefs and interests of the people who regularly walk past it.
Artist Dan Petley started the project with the intention of filling the 224 bricks in an ordinary brick wall outside the Canteen on Stokes Croft, Central Bristol with artwork by 224 different artists.
‘I became interested in using this wall because I was renting a studio at Coexist, which occupies the Hamilton House building and is seen as a social hub of the area. I wanted to curate a street art project in order to understand the gentrification of the Stokes Croft area, and to explore the effects this had on graffiti artists and their work. I submitted a proposal to the owners of the building and started the piece shortly after. Interestingly the project began as a satire on the ‘pay to display’ mentality which I had always felt uncomfortable with, by getting artists to pay £1 for a brick on which they could display their work!’ Dan ran the first two sessions this way, but was inspired to change the project after he realised how much people who weren’t professional artists wanted to take part. ‘As soon as I stopped charging people to paint bricks the project developed a valuable community message. It became a way for the general public to take ownership of their environment and feel proud in doing so. As the brick project started to become a more accurate reflection of the feelings, beliefs and interests of the many people who regularly walk past the wall, it became a local sensation, allowing people with varied levels of creative skill to display work in a well loved collaborative piece.’
These tiny permanent canvases have been painted by all walks of life including families, revellers and homeless people. Dan, a professional painter himself, doesn’t just curate and facilitate the project but also ‘restores and gentrifies’ bricks that have faded or been vandalised. The bricks are painted in high quality acrylic, and some of the bricks painted In 2011 are still just as bold as they were on the day they were painted.
The rules of the project are that only the bricks, not the mortar are to be painted, and although white backgrounds are allowed they are discouraged in order to make the project as colourful as possible.
Following positive feedback from the general public about the project Dan completed two smaller walls with local schools (with students of Bristol Hospital Education Service) and another in an expensive hipster pub in Easton. Each wall reflects the atmosphere and clientele of each site.
In 2016 The Brick Project hit the news when Labour councillor Neil Puttick collaborated with Dan to site the project in an underpass in Macclesfield. This tunnel contains over 3000 bricks and everyone in the town knows someone who took part, making it the most popular and best looked after piece of public art in the area. Dan is available to make projects in any town that has an area that could be restored through a community project. Please contact him through his website danpetley.co.uk
Dan makes paintings and community art projects all over the world as well as being a painter, writer, musician and art history cartoon satirist. He also has experience of working with children with emotional and behavioural issues in schools and has a full DBS.
Find more of Dan's work at danpetley.co.uk