Kit Graff’s Preston art trail

An anonymous Preston-based artist approached me asking for help in letting people know about their first public art project – a series of quotes they had sprayed on to bricked-up windows in the back streets of Preston.

This is Kit Graff’s statement and story about the project Broken Places.

Street art in Preston by Kit Graff

What is Broken Places?

A series of ten quotes taken from modern classic literature. Each of the quotes is shown in stylised graffiti presented within the framework of bricked up windows across Preston city centre and its interlinking alleys and back streets.

Where did the idea come from?

I was involved earlier this year with the Lancashire Photography Festival. While assisting Garry Cook to put up some of the pieces for this project, I walked around many of the back streets of Preston and noticed that behind the facade of this modern, vibrant city sits a hidden layer of beauty and neglect. There is a wealth of fine architecture which over the years has been left untended and ultimately forgotten.

When installing a photograph in Old Cock Yard I noted a window had been bricked up with light-grey industrial breezeblocks. This contrasted with the red bricks of the building, and with the lintel at the top, created a perfect natural frame.

From this and further explorations I recognised that typically these buildings are in what are now commercial areas but were previously residential properties. There were large, prestigious townhouses and grand terraced dwellings, and other residential houses. Many of these have now become nightclubs or takeaways, shops and cafes, or simply abandoned to become derelict.

Windows can be a vulnerable part of a building’s security, especially in quiet backstreets, and so in many cases have been filled in. Whilst windows are often simply boarded up or have metal sheets fixed over them, there is a sad permanence to a window which has been bricked up. The view from the window has been removed forever.

With the bricked-up windows, I am simply replacing this lost physical view with a metaphorical artefact, namely, a quote from literature, the point of view of an author. 

Mental health is a vulnerability of many people; their own decline perhaps, and in many cases is hidden away, taken out of view. Similarly, such issues can lead to being forgotten, their ‘problems’ hidden away, and losing their view on life. The journey to wellness can often require a different perspective, a different view from which to move forward. 

The first piece, “Buy the ticket, take the ride” was always intended as a stand-alone thing. I make a lot of decisions based on what will make a good anecdote later on or what will sound mad enough to my carers when I’m old and in a nursing home. Possibly not the best way to make life choices but it leads to some interesting results. I suppose I want to be able to say when I’m 90 that I was a graffiti artist when I was young and foolish, and have people roll their eyes in disbelief. 

So I decided to put this one quote up. I did not know what I was doing. I thought I had to prepare the background so I taped around the entire window and painstakingly sprayed the whole thing with white paint. It hardly made a bit of difference. It did cause my wrist to seize up though and meant I spent ages hanging about in an alleyway with a can of spraypaint in my hand – not something you want to be doing. I didn’t do backgrounds from then on, preferring to let the natural colour of the brick show through the words. 

I cut the first template out of bits of card we had around the house. The big swirly ‘B’ I did on the lid of a pizza box and all the other words were done on odds and ends. I only had a heavy old Stanley Knife then and it took a long time to cut through the thick, corrugated card I was using. When I came to put it up, I was terrified. I only managed the first three words before I bottled out and went home. The next day, I went back and finished it and immediately felt much better. I was so pleased with how it looked. 

I joined graffiti fora online after that but found them to be difficult to navigate and mainly aimed at people who want to do tagging or drawing so I self-taught. I think it’s fair to say, I got the bug after that first one.

Street art in Preston by Kit Graff

How did you choose the quotes?

Refraining from the standard inspirational quotes people have on their living room walls, I chose quotes which had some level of ambiguity, open to interpretation. This allows the reader to absorb a meaning that has relevance to their own state of mind in that moment of viewing.

I also unwittingly ended up representing the transition of my own state of mind which progressed over the 6 months this project was under way. I started at a low point, and gradually began to feel more optimistic, and the quotes reflect these feelings.

Not only are the quotes physically hidden in the alleys and backstreets, whilst they are from well-known authors’ novels and their works, they are not always their most well-known phrases, and as such are themselves somewhat hidden.

The quotes are not attributed, and so their provenance is not specified. It can be seen as a test or quiz for the more intrepid of the audience, or of course when found, a simple internet search will disclose the author and novel. The other aspect of the hidden nature of my work is the fact they can be stumbled upon, or anyone who wishes can find the map online.

What was the process of creating the pieces?

After many wanderings around the back streets and broken places of Preston city centre, I had a camera roll full of bricked-in windows. I also had a list of quotes I wanted to use and I matched them up carefully. I would measure each window, inspect the texture of the brick, consider the location, both from the perspective of me creating the piece and for potential viewers. I would visit a chosen location many times, eventually stopping by with a brush to clean the surface before finally going back and putting the piece up. 

They are all created with stencils. The walls of my home are covered in pencil drawings of the earlier works, when I still had to sketch them out life-size to understand the scale and how much space I had to work with. I wanted to use the spaces as effectively as possible so I designed the stencils to fit in the specific windows they were destined for. 

Once I had a plan, I would measure and sketch out the designs meticulously accurately onto huge sheets of card. I got myself a lightweight craft knife and things became a bit easier after that. I created my own font for this collection which adds to the distinctiveness of the pieces. It took several days to cut out each stencil and I always dreaded them being finished because that meant I had to go through the nerve-wracking process of painting them up.

They had to be put up when conditions were just right. I couldn’t work when it was windy as the paint flies about everywhere. It couldn’t be raining or have rained recently, as the brick had to be dry for the paint to take. I downloaded the Met Office app to my phone and started obsessively checking the forecast.

I often said that I must be Preston’s most anxious graffiti writer. I was always terrified of getting arrested or having people shout at me but I thought it was worth the risk to create something worthwhile. I wanted to be in and out in only a few minutes so I planned to be as quick as possible. As it happens, I never had any trouble. Several times, people walked past me while I was working and many of them glanced over curiously but hardly anyone spoke to me. While I was working on the Tithebarn, a couple on their way to an Extinction Rebellion protest came over and chatted and were so wonderfully supportive it really gave me a lift. When I put up the last piece on Surgeon’s Court, a group of people came past and one of them told me he had seen the piece in Bolton’s Court and that he loved it. He told me he was really pleased to be able to meet the person behind them. That was an uplifting, joyful interaction.

Of the few people who know I do this, several have asked if I go out at night. They have been quite surprised to find that I go out in broad daylight and hide in plain sight. The problems with working at night include a lack of light to see by but also, I would be more likely to attract negative attention that way. If you’re out in a mask, spray-painting a wall at 4am, you’re definitely up to no good. I go out during the day and I try to dress like an estate agent. The idea being that anyone who sees me thinks I am supposed to be there. I did consider obtaining a hi-vis vest, as everyone knows no one stops people wearing hi-vis – it’s like camouflage – but I stopped just short of this.

In fact, I was reminded of the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Brian goes to write, ‘Romans Go Home’ on the temple and is given a Latin lesson by a passing Centurion because his graffiti contains spelling mistakes. It would have been very amusing to have a hi-vis vest designed with the logo of a can of spray paint in a circle and the legend written around the outside ‘Romani Ite Domum.’ But I never got around to it, unfortunately.

I always took a picture as soon as I had finished a piece, in case it was immediately removed or tampered with. It was only when I got back home that I’d look at the photo and really see the piece for the first time. I was too immersed in the process when I was painting them. I would go back the next day and stand in front of it, noticing all the little flaws and muttering darkly about bits being wonky or smudged. Sometimes, I tidied up an errant letter with a black Sharpie. No one else seems to notice these imperfections but you see all the flaws in your own work.

Before I finished all ten pieces, two of them were removed. I always knew this might happen but it still came as a shock. They were both down the same alleyway and there was lots more graffiti there too – mainly tags – which was all painted over. I assumed the Council had done a sweep. Whether they received a complaint of whether it’s a regular thing they do, I have no idea. I almost stopped the whole project but I decided to push on. I had kept all the stencils so was able to find a new home for one of the ones which was taken down. The other one was the very first piece and I waited until everything else was done before I put it back up in exactly the same place it had been before. I then went back and painted a sparkly top coat on it as a sort of final *rude gesture* to whoever had it removed in the first place. ‘Not only is it back but it’s better than ever!’

What if they get removed?

I have to accept that that might happen. Once you put up a piece of graffiti you have to walk away from it knowing it’s not yours anymore. The Council might take them all down. They’ve got a map now with all of them – I might have shot myself in the foot there! Hopefully, someone sensible will decide they are worth leaving alone, at least, until such time as the weather erodes them all away. The second piece, ‘You do things and do things and nobody really has a clue,’ is already wearing away alarmingly quickly. It seems to have some kind of water leak running down the brickwork and bits of the paint have been flaking off for weeks. I have retouched it a few times but I think it’s time to leave them all alone now and let whatever happens happen. The important thing is, I finished the project. There will always have been a time in history when all ten of them were up at the same time.

You could say that I didn’t have a right to put these up and that this is vandalism – and you would be right. I never asked permission – that’s not what graffiti is about. I don’t give my permission to have advertising hoardings in front of my eyeballs every day on my way to work but there they are regardless. At least my work offers a brief moment of respite from the relentless onslaught of consumerism we are all bombarded with on a daily basis.

Why is it called Broken Places?

Originally it was called Kit Graff’s Alley Gallery and I created a Facebook page with this name. Kit Graff is my pseudonym and a friend came up with Alley Gallery. 

The final quote, which is down Surgeon’s Court, ends with the words ‘broken places’ and it just seemed right. I spent a lot of time working on that piece. I went back and painted lots of tiny gold lines over those two words – more about this later. The longer I stared at those words, the more I thought that this is exactly what this project is all about – Preston’s broken places. The derelict buildings and scruffy alleyways that I have come to know and love so much.

What kind of feedback have you received?

Very little, to be honest. Lots of people must have seen them but how would I know? I don’t tag them or sign them in any way. I’m not about ego – I don’t mind whether people know who put them up or not. 

I have shared this project with a few trusted friends and their feedback has all been positive. I often showed them some of the pieces in situ before letting on that they were mine, so I could get an honest reaction. One friend told me that his cleaner mentioned she had discovered some brilliant graffiti writing in town and it was one of mine. That made me happy. Feedback came from a friend of a friend who said she had stumbled upon one of them and she didn’t like it. When I enquired further, the reason given was that she didn’t like the font. I just shrugged. You can’t win them all.

Do you have plans for any other projects?

In short, no. It’s been a long road getting to the end of this one, both in terms of time and effort. A lot has changed in my life while I’ve been working on this and, while I’m a little sad it’s over, I am quite relieved. 

All of the literature ones are in black paint except one, which is purple, for reasons  eagle-eyed viewers will grasp. I did wonder about doing a whole other set of 10 quotes, from music this time in white paint, perhaps in bricked-up doorways. The first one would have to be a quote from The Doors. “People are strange when you’re a stranger” type of thing. But I’ve decided against it for now.

Thanks

My heartfelt thanks go to the people around me who supported and encouraged me while I worked on this project. L, who never once complained about the dining table being taken up with art materials and the walls being covered with sketches and who never tired of me saying, “I’m popping out now. I’ll only be a short while, unless I get arrested.” A who helped with the technology and the writing, without whom this press release would never have been written. C, J and M who enthused, congratulated and shored me up when I insisted this was silly and not proper art. G and T who supplied and held ladders and exerted a calming influence when I was panicking. 

Most of all, thanks go to the people of Preston, for whom this project was created. This wonderful city which has become my home and which will always be a part of me – now I have become a part of it, too.

Here is a list of the individual pieces in the order in which I put them up

  1. Ticket   –   Old Cock Yard
  2. Clue   –   Alleyway next to Yates’ which has no name!
  3. Magic   –   Chapel Walks
  4. Nothing   –   Surgeon’s Court
  5. Alive   –   Clayton’s Gate
  6. Stardust   –   Alleyway next to Yates’
  7. Disappear   –   Lennox Street
  8. Future   –   Bolton’s Court
  9. Divine   –   Tithebarn
  10. Broken   –   Surgeon’s Court

A link to the map:

A QR Code which also links to the map:

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/PzMHlf1T_-FwDlQ7hVzngv1rA5ZTxSaajb77J6SCb7T1mcd-LJAPTvWi1JjaIJx1ulU0zD8znjOggRDiTsNrntZw3JH6ICem70W8MaPBXXMff6LtJB83eLAZzrxDW4Fks4VcaG_C

A link to the Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Kit-Graffs-Alley-Gallery-109657224682645

Street art in Preston by Kit Graff

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