Norwich street art - Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine
5 January 2021

The Art on the Streets

By Rachel Sloane

Cave paintings in prehistoric times, medieval church frescos, murals on the walls and ceilings in stately homes… wall paintings have a long history. However, when in the 1960’s, unauthorized pop-art wall paintings began to appear on city and town streets, residents and councils were horrified by the “graffiti”. The debate has been long and heated, but it is now accepted that ‘street art” can be a force for the good, enlivening underpasses, derelict buildings and abandoned shop fronts, improving an urban landscape and creating an attractive environment for visitors and locals alike.

What is the difference between graffiti and street art? According to the online advice from Norwich City Council, the former is “negative” but the latter is “artistic.”

In the comprehensive advice on their website, the council stresses that any street art needs the written permission of the owners of the building or structure and may need planning permission if the site is in a conservation area or would ‘change the character of the area’. Getting local people on-board is also advisable. They also warn that, created without authority, graffiti and street art can be a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and up to a £5000 fine!

Generally, well-designed and approved art seems to be encouraged in Norwich, and between 2016 and 2019 the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) sponsored artists to design murals across the city. Walking around you can discover the giant works of art, many of which are of Norwich landmarks and scenes.

The first one was Poppy Cole’s City of Stories in Ber Street, a colourful mural of city landmarks, while, in complete contrast, the second one also depicted scenes of Norwich but as a line drawing, designed by Beverley Coraldean, in Theatre Street. How did the commission come about?

“It was a competition the Norwich BID were running and, if chosen, you were commissioned to do the design. The murals were painted by a specialist company, but the designs were all by local artists. I went on holiday and when I came back it was there!” laughed Beverley. “It was a bit daunting to see your work up so large. I lived just around the corner, so it was really nice to see it whenever I passed by. People refer to it all the time and it probably the most well-known thing I have done.”

Beverley’s line drawing style comes from when she worked in pubs.

“I got a lot of signwriting jobs and then I was asked to do murals. I do a lot like the Norwich one ….but much smaller! They are usually in a courtyard or a pub.”

Beverley agreed that being one of the winners of the Norwich BID competition helped her with her career.

“Every single job you do leads on to something else, and a commissioned work shows that you can be trusted to produce something worthwhile.”

She now does a lot of printed murals, often for hospitals.

“I do a lot of digital artwork which is printed onto wallpaper. I’ve done several projects at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and am working on another one there at the moment, for the Interventional Radiology Department. They are fantastic jobs and very rewarding. It may not seem the most important thing at the moment, but it something that can be a distraction, putting someone at ease whilst undergoing hospital procedures. They are very nice jobs to work on.”

Back in the city you can spot eight different murals plus twelve smaller ones on the market stalls. Walk under Joey LaMeche’s work at Castle Galleries or look up and see Malca Schotten’s giant friendly dragon above the shops in Red Lion Street. She chose to create a dragon design, as she had been involved in the Norwich Dragon Festival when she had had painted George and the Dragon on a grand scale, to fill the windows of The Book Hive Bookshop.

“I was one of the first bunch of artists chosen by BID, and there were five locations. I really wanted to paint it myself or at least assist the artist from the company that painted the murals. Because of Health and Safety rules that wasn’t allowed,” Malca remembered. “Actually, before it was completely finished, I went to see the mural, climbed up and down the scaffolding with lots of green, red, yellow, and black paint, and spent the whole day, until it was almost dark, painting additional touches to Snap the Dragon. Then he was just how I wanted him to be, as I added shadows and details so he had the heart and energetic flare of my original dragon.”

Malca’s large scale work had been seen in Norwich before with her “I’m Not Dead yet” series of portraits of older Norwich residents, created as gigantic two-metre tall charcoal and pastel pictures.

Through the lockdown Malca has been selling her work through the Artist Support Pledge that began in March. Artists list five works for sale for up to £200 each on Instagram, and when they sell all of them, they commit to buying a piece from another artist in the scheme.

She has also been working on landscapes and other work for her September exhibition at Mandell’s Gallery near the Norwich Cathedral. Obviously, those landscapes are much smaller than Snap the Dragon!

“The thing about big works is that it stops people in their tracks. It takes them out of their everyday lives. The only big things we all usually see are advertising hoardings! I am happy to donate my drawings to public spaces if people want them, because I think it is a good thing to have art in the community rather than just be a thing that one sees in a gallery”

The street art in Norwich is a million miles from what most people would think of as ‘graffiti’. What does Malca think makes good street art?

“As well as being good artistically, I think the design should be dynamic, accomplished and considered,” she said, decidedly. “We didn’t used to have the sort of street art they have in places like America but now it is all over the world, with the most extraordinary murals, true works of art and great skill. Norwich BID did an amazing thing, and I wish we had more.”

Malca says that the hardest thing is finding suitable places for street art to go.

“It is very difficult to get locations where building owners and trustees are open-minded enough to agree to have paintings on their walls.”

Next time you are walking around Norwich look out for the amazing street art and, if you own a suitable wall, there are artists just waiting to create some public art for all to enjoy.

This article was first published in Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine, September 2020