Random Access Memories: Street Art in the Northern Quarter, Manchester


Mostly a photo story, as Alan Dearling ‘randomly’ roams the streets with his Sony A7s camera to share images of this ever-changing, creative neighbourhood.

September 2023: Manchester’s Northern Quarter: is a creative hub, lots of independent shops, cafes, old-style and hipster pubs, artsworks and fashionistas. It’s not far distant from Victoria Rail Station, half a mile to the east, with Stevenson Square spilling over with brightly coloured art from artist in residence, Sheffield’s Marcus Method, surrounding and enlivening the public area outside of the Fred Aldous art store. It’s a vibrant, socialising, eating and drinking space.

I’m not attempting to replicate the many on-line sites which already exist to share images and locations of the small, large and in-between art, graffiti and commercial advertising. It’s evolving daily. Buildings are demolished, new ones are constructed, favourite examples of street art are tagged, exciting, innovative and sometimes tacky, or, messy, new art appears. It’s a street photographers’ dreamscape. It’s lush, edgy and eye-catching. I’ve added in some on-line sites which offer maps, more images and descriptions of some of the street artists represented through their works in the Northern Quarter.

This is the Manchester sister-site of Sheffield web arts organisation, Street Art NQhttps://streetartnq.com/

Secret Manchester: https://secretmanchester.com/manchester-street-art/

Manchester Pocket Guide: https://www.manchesterpocketguide.com/street-art-manchester

I chose to arrive by train into the city at 10 o’clock in the morning and spent about three hours bimbling up and down a lattice-work of narrow and wider streets, dodging around buses, building workers, cranes, car fumes – just as the tables and benches for outside cafes and bars were beginning to be set up. It was during the quieter period before the new daily rush started to take place. A warm sunny day in early September. Getting humid – indeed, towards ‘hot’.  Transitional spaces and people.

Taking photos on the ‘hoof and without any plan is a delight in itself. It’s a liminal experience, in-between realities, which is not a bad way to view the creation, and life, death and even destruction of street artworks. Some of the buildings themselves are ‘artworks’, with or without artistic adornments. Between rubbish bins, darkened doorways offer beguiling canvases for stickers, stencils, transfers, mosaics and spray-can art. My visit today is unique, a one-off, the same places, faces and art will never be replicated. It’s all about change. A temporary moment, frozen in time. Many of the Northern Quarter prime street art sites are contested spaces…

With my fairly bulky camera clutched to my chest for safety, I was asked questions from a number of people about the art and artists. Sadly, mostly I couldn’t provide answers! One young guy even approached me and asked me how much I would charge to take his photo. I said: “Nothing”. I told him that I would just take a couple and then send him by email. He’s been in touch, and as I half-suspected, Fabian Ikubor is a model looking for a creative career. Good luck to him.

After noon, I settled down in the public space by Cheetham’s Library, happy to take a break before the train journey back from Lancashire to my home-base in West Yorkshire. In fact, I was somewhat foot-sore, and  so it was that I thoroughly enjoyed slowly supping and savouring a quality litre of lemonade and an egg and cress sarnie, whilst watching the lunchtime Manchester folk enjoying a break from work or whatever. My Northern Quarter street-art journey  was fun, provocative at times, and also thought-provoking, particularly those images and spaces that convey ‘stories’ and/or ‘messages’. There’s a lot of social commentary and social realism embedded in the Northern Quarter’s street-art. That’s particularly true of the works, mostly portraits, created by French-Vietnamese, Mancunian artist, AKSE P19. But, then over time, there are always new kids on the artistic block willing to share their creativity and bold visions. Old visions decay; new ones burst into life. Other notable artists include: tankpetrol; SNIK; wrdsmth; MC Matos; Liam Bononi; Mr TeaOne; Cbloxx; Evan Barlow; Shaun Dev; Frodrik; Perspicere; Faunagraphic, and many others – but go check  out the online sites. Hope I haven’t got too many of the names wrong! Respect! I’m not pretending to be a specialist, but the street and its art belongs, even if it’s briefly, to everyone – residents, tourists, workers, creators and their audience.

Altogether, this was another creative adventure, with the added bonus of some outcomes to share via the images and memories.

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