On a crisp February morning, Kelly Woodruff’s eyes widened in astonishment as she beheld a breathtaking mural that had magically materialized overnight. Adorning the weathered walls of her father’s rental property in Barton Hill, an underprivileged neighborhood in Bristol, this unexpected masterpiece breathed new life into the surroundings, captivating both residents and passersby.“We were all extremely excited on that first day,” she says. “When it was confirmed as a Banksy, though, reality hit.”
Woodruff and her family love the mural of a child firing red flowers from a catapult, but: “I feel a huge responsibility to make the right decisions and unfortunately it has cost us a lot of money already,” she says.
“The first night we added a clear sheet of perspex to protect it, costing over £300, but it was torn off and smashed in the next morning. The following night it was graffitied with pink spray paint. We then had to take measures to secure and protect the art by boarding it up, adding security cameras and fencing.”
Woodruff and her father have yet to have the property revalued but the mural’s long-term effect on their investment may overshadow the short-term hassles. In 2017, a survey commissioned by online estate agents eMoov suggested that 44 per cent of UK homeowners would pay more for a house decorated with Banksy’s works.
“It’s hard to say whether such a well-known street artist can directly add value to a property but it certainly adds intrigue,” says Richard Brooks, head of residential sales in the south-west at Savills. Some buyers, he says, may rule a property out due to the street art and the prospect of tourists going out of their way to visit it. Others will be willing to pay more to live alongside a piece by one of the world’s best-known artists.
Street art has not always held such cachet. Once, had a piece appeared on a landlord’s wall, “The first thing they would have been doing was whitewashing it off the side of their property,” says Kilo, a prolific and respected graffiti writer, whose tag became a common sight on the railway bridges and dark alleys of London in the 1980s and 1990s. “Now, it adds to the value. But only if it’s the right person.”
Back then, all street art was considered graffiti — an act of illegal vandalism. “People didn’t want it on their doorsteps,” he says. “A few places sprang up where it was tolerated, but they were always in really bad areas, crime-ridden or poor.”
“I know Banksy from years ago, before he became the name that he is now, so I can’t begrudge him his success,” he adds.
A work done in May by Kilo, in Cambridge, UK: street art ‘adds to the value. But only if it’s the right person,’ he says
Over the past two decades — helped by the high prices fetched by Banksy’s works at auction — street art has changed, becoming more appreciated and valued and even developing commercial sub-genres.
“Murals are usually, but not always, commissioned and therefore the artist gets paid. But if the same artist did the exact same mural somewhere unauthorised, he or she could face prosecution or even prison,” says Kilo.
Tracking down the elusive Banksy may be a tall order, but working with other muralists to decorate the exterior of a house is surprisingly easy.
The UK planning system regulates the placing of advertisements, but as long as a mural’s contents could not be construed as an advert, and the wall for which it is destined neither falls within a conservation area nor constitutes part of a listed building, planning permission is not required.
Mark Clack is co-founder of Wood Street Walls, a community-interest company that uses public art to raise awareness of social issues affecting the east London borough of Waltham Forest. Since 2015, it has helped to create more than 100 murals.
A mural of William Morris in Walthamstow, east London, by Atma, through Wood Street Walls © Mark Rigney
Housing associations and local authorities approach the company with “public realm” or regeneration projects in which schools, community groups and local residents are consulted about the planned artwork.
It also provides a service to homeowners and commercial-property landlords and tenants, matching them to suitable artists and taking into consideration the local context and history of the area, says Clack. Costs range from hundreds to thousands of pounds.
Unlike graffiti artists who, Kilo implies, would mostly sneer at paid work, artists commissioned by Wood Street Walls are paid a flat fee from “a mix of grants, sponsorship and funding, some through private commissioning”.
It says the service is in demand. In 2016, Warwick University researchers identified a link between street art and rising house prices. Analysing data from 4.4m photos uploaded to social media from 2004-2013, they found the London postcodes with street art had also experienced steep rises in house prices, a phenomenon they termed “art-led economic development”.
Over the past decade, house prices in Waltham Forest have been among London’s fastest risers. The average house price there has doubled since 2010, according to Land Registry data.
If murals contribute to the area’s appeal, even in a minor way, might they force out the marginalised communities that street art strove to represent in the first place?
“The counterpoint to that gentrification argument is that our work generates money for the local economy and for local artists,” says Clack. Wood Street Walls is in the process of creating its own street-art tours, “where we train up young people who aren’t in work or education to conduct the tours”.
“We’ve always been mindful of not commercialising or commodifying the work. This will generate funds in an ethical way for the people who need employment and training the most.”
Fabiana Forte, associate professor at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli’s architecture and industrial design department, has studied the correlation between street art and socio-economic dynamics in cities across the world. Take Harlem, New York, she suggests, where the graffiti movement flourished in the 1970s. Then, Forte says, the neighbourhood was avoided because it was blighted by crime and poverty.
Yet as she points out in her recent paper How Can Street Art Have Economic Value?, in today’s gentrified Harlem “the requests for new murals are numerous, because the building owners understand these interventions can attract new tenants with a higher income capacity”.
In the city’s Chelsea district, a building was valued at $880,000 in 2010-11. The following year, the Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra painted two vast, brilliantly bright murals on it. By 2014-15, the building was estimated to be worth $2,075,000 — an increase of about 135 per cent. The average Chelsea sale price in the same period rose by 49 per cent, according to Garrett Derderian, CEO of GS Data Services.
Street art, it seems, is no longer considered the marker of a deprived neighbourhood. Today, it may signal an area worth investing in. Instead of painting over it, we want to see it, be seen with it and have our properties and neighbourhoods decorated with it. London is even holding its first citywide celebration of the art form in September: The London Mural Festival.
“People want street art more and more,” says Camille Walala, a celebrated muralist whose work is to feature in the festival. “It’s not how it used to be. Some people think it almost went a bit too commercial, but who cares? We’re reaching all categories of people, including the ones who might not go to art galleries. If people say, ‘You make me smile every day on my way to work’ well, that’s all I’m after.”
Londoner Ben Eine is famed for his colourful, stylised letting on shop shutters, walls and in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s permanent collection. David Cameron gave Barack Obama an Eine during his first official trip to Washington in 2010, and in 2015 he created a mural on the British embassy in Abu Dhabi, which is believed to be the country’s first piece of street art.
The Portuguese street artist (real name Alexandre Farto) creates his intricate murals not with paint but by bleaching, chiselling and drilling into the walls of cities from Hong Kong to Miami.
The American achieved fame for his bold graphic style and political subject matter. He is best known for his poster of Barack Obama emblazoned with the word ‘hope’, made during the 2008 presidential election.
Often called France’s answer to Banksy, Christian Guémy stencils colourful portraits of the characters he meets in cities from New York to New Delhi. His latest, ‘‘Love in the Time of Coronavirus’ features a couple kissing through surgical masks, and was completed just before Paris went into lockdown.
The dreamlike, yellow-faced figures painted by Brazilian twin brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo grace galleries and walls but often reflect politics in their native São Paulo.