Bristol is renowned for being a centre for contemporary and media arts. This is certainly echoed in the attractions of the city – many of which are linked to the arts in one way or another. For art buffs you’ll be in heaven with contemporary arts centres like the Arnolfini and Spike Island Artspace or for immersing yourself in the arts social centre head off to the Watershed for films and food. More traditional art exhibitions can be seen at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery or the Royal West of England Academy of Arts in Clifton.
Bristol prides itself in having spawned a variety of contemporary artists in a variety of media. These range from social commentator graffiti artist Banksy to the more cuddly animations from Aardman Animations who have been based in Bristol since the 1970s. The wealth of talent and ability to attract works from all over the world is evident in the many art galleries in the city.
Contemporary Arts – Banksy Graffiti Artist
The graffiti artist, Banksy, hails from Bristol and caused heated debate as to whether his graffiti, often accompanied with amusing satirical messages, was art or vandalism. Thankfully Bristolians and the city council support all forms of art and many of his works have been kept around Bristol with only the odd mishap where it has been removed or painted over by accident. Many of his pictures are painted using stencils although no-one really knows how he does it or his identity.
Check out the Ghost Sailor on the hull of the Thelka Social boat moored in the harbour. Banksy painted this after having previously painted his name on the boat which was painted over allegedly by the Harbour Master much to the disgruntlement of the owner of the Thelka. He threatened to sue as he’d quite liked Banksy’s work.
From the harbourside head up towards famous Park Street in the city centre and on Frogmore Street you’ll see Banksy’s ‘Well Hung Lover’ on the side of a sexual health clinic. Great views of this Banksy work are from the little bridge at the end of Park Street and around the artwork sit a funky selection of quirky clothes shops and independent record stores. In the heart of Bristol’s cultural quarter at Stokes Quarter is Banksy’s ‘The Canteen’ with great views of this artwork from Jamaica Street Junction.
Banksy in Easton
Next stop via a short bus trip is Easton where you’ll find one of his earliest works – ‘Clic clack boom’ just off the high street at Stanley Park. Other works in Easton include ‘Cat and Dog’ on Foster Street and ‘Masked Gorilla’ located on Fishponds Road.
Arnolfini Contemporary Arts Centre
The Arnolfini Arts Centre is in one of Bristol’s first "Bristol Byzantine" style buildings, that was used as a tea warehouse, on the harbour front. This has been converted to accommodate one of Europe’s leading centres for the contemporary arts. It houses several art galleries, a cinema and space for live arts and dance. A regular array of exhibitions, film, dance, music and literature are hosted in the Centre. Entry to the galleries is free so you can easily pop in to view the latest exhibitions that include a range of innovative installations to convey a variety of messages. Staff are on hand to help interpret the more obscure exhibits!
The Centre was established as an educational charity in 1961 and aimed to showcase challenging works often from relatively unknown artists. The centre has an access and education programme and often organises educational family events to explore the arts. The cinema presents a regular programme of independent art house and foreign films as well as screening artists’ films. When you’re in need of refreshment there is a funky, colourful cafe/bar with outdoor seating and you can browse the specialist arts bookshop.
The Architecture Centre Bristol
Just next to the Arnolfini Centre is the small but attractive Architecture Centre. This is an independently run centre which aims to promote and explore the built environment which seems entirely fitting given Bristol’s historic buildings that are now interspersed with a range of interesting modern buildings.
The Architecture Centre was established by the charity the Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture. The centre hosts a wide range of exhibitions, guided tours, visits, discussions, workshops and lectures as well as working with schools and colleges. These centres are common in the USA and Europe and have started to become established in the UK over recent years.
Bristol’s Architecture Centre is one of the first to be established outside London. Through exhibiting a range of architecture based events the centre aims to promote better architecture that enhances people’s lives and to help people understand what makes good architecture thereby increasing the demand for excellence in quality and design. Changing exhibitions feature throughout the year and you’ll find a fabulous on-site shop selling a range of books on architecture and design, jewellery, toys and gifts.
Watershed Media Centre Bristol
Across the water on Bristol’s Harbourside is the Watershed Media Centre which promotes creativity, innovation and talent through a range of films shown in its three cinemas and a range of events held in a series of spaces open as studios and meeting and conference venues.
The Victorian warehouses have been converted into a media arts centre that is designed to facilitate exchange, networking and enjoyment by providing a range of meeting places where WiFi internet access helps make it an excellent location for formal meetings or creative working. The annual Encounters Short Film Festivals are held at the Watershed.
Spike Island Artspace
Spike Island at Cumberland Basin in Bristol’s historic harbourside is the national centre for the production and exhibition of contemporary visual art. It houses a range of artists’ studios and exhibition space for the making and showing of new works. Spike Island has recently undergone some refurbishment which has improved gallery facilities in which a programme of exhibition and events are planned throughout the year. There is also a cafe, Spike Canteen, on site.
Royal West of England Academy of Arts
The Royal West of England Academy of Arts is one of the five Royal Academies of Art in the UK. It is housed in a grand Grade II listed building in Clifton in Bristol’s West End. The permanent fine art collection started from a bequest to the Academy by Ellen Sharples in 1849. It contains paintings by nineteenth century artists and has grown by additions from artist members through the twentieth century to the present day.
A range of paintings, sculptures and photographs are exhibited in five naturally lit galleries and the New Gallery. The RWA holds two open exhibitions every year: one that showcases sculpture, painting or printmaking, the second, the Autumn Exhibition, comprises mixed disciplines from both national and international artists. The Academy also houses a shop and cafe and many of the exhibitions have art for sale. The gallery can also be hired for lectures, meetings and launches.
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery is in a grand Edwardian Baroque building near the University on Queens Road. The museum collections range from archaeology, natural history and the lately opened Egyptian Gallery.
The Museum also houses a range of works from Old Masters, French School painters, British art, Modern Art and the Bristol School of Art. There are also exhibits of Eastern Art, ceramics, silverware and glassware. The Museum also organises a range of workshops, children’s holiday activities, family fun days, summer walks, arts and crafts sessions and winter lectures.