Tryst with the street art of Brighton

He holds a small piece of charcoal and begins carving the eyes first, then the hair, then a few more quick strokes and within the span of a couple of minutes the image of a lady stares out from the paper. “£5 please,” says Michael, as he hands over the portrait wrapped in newspaper to the lady. The lady, on the contrary, gives him £7 with a grin. “You deserve it,” she says, handing him an additional cup of coffee.

Essence of street artists

Apart from the huge student population and utter beauty of this seaside resort town, what makes Brighton special is perhaps the essence of street artists and their artistic adroitness.

Michael is one among many street artists thronging Brighton who earn their living through impeccable craftsmanship. What Michael calls art is his ‘magical three-minute portrait.’ “I started sketching when I was about 6-7 years old. I normally charge £5 for a single portrait and if there are more than two people in one portrait I take £7,” says Michael, as he starts working on another portrait while a few more clients wait for their turn. He seems to be a pretty busy man, as our conversation was interrupted numerous times by people eager to get their sketches done.

Street art is for everyone 

When visiting Brighton, street art is something one certainly can’t afford to miss. Musicians busking on the streets and portrait artists, among others, are some of the things that perhaps cannot escape your sight. The street art here attracts an audience easily, because it’s not for the artistic connoisseur, but for the passerby who gets acquainted with the visual art and the artist at work.

However, the only hindrance to this artistic beauty is apparent – the unpredictable England climate. “Compared to other days, I have a hectic time during the weekends. My day starts from around 10:30 in the morning and normally I call it a day after about four to five hours of work. However, on certain days, I have to end early due to unfavorable climatic conditions.”

Michael seemed a bit reluctant to reveal his daily earning. “Daily work of around five hours are enough for me to make a good living. There are clients who want to bargain on the cost, but mostly I find people willing to pay more.”

Art has no language of expression 

Art certainly has no language of expression, and thus normal people can enjoy the beauty and understand the artists’ point of view, only when they can connect with the artwork. That’s what makes it special – the instant connectivity!

I recall an Indian artist, Tulirekha Dev, once saying modernity has made humans very mechanical and we struggle to balance ourselves in trying to catch up with everything happening around us as quickly as possible. 

Dev, who has exhibited her paintings across India, and whose collections can be found in Philadelphia, Detroit and New York, elicits, “A student who grows up with an artistic sensibility sees his world at a different perspective quite unlike his peers. This sensitivity actually molds his behaviour, his interpersonal communication, and his action.” She believes that throwing light on artistic sensibility is above any methodology.

Just when I thought I had enough material for my story and began striding to the bus stop, enjoying the magnificent beauty of the Brighton seafront, I caught the subtle strumming of a guitar. Nearby, a young man, apparently in his late 20s, was playing guitar and occasionally humming ‘Summer of ’69’ by Bryan Adams. A small crowd congregated around him to enjoy the euphoric aura. “This is so amazing, isn’t it?” says one woman, as she taps her feet rhythmically with the music.

George, 34, a local resident from Brighton, told me that normally during the summer and around Christmas, there are more street artists. “Mostly people like to hang around and stroll through the streets with family and friends during this time of the year, so you could see more of the street artists,” George adds.

Magic of Brighton 

After about five minutes of waiting, the bus arrived and I was on my way back. While on the bus, I decided to scroll through my notebook to see if I have enough material for my story, and as I opened my bag, there lay my smiling portrait. Michael’s ‘magical three-minute portrait’ would always make me reminisce about my tryst with the street art of Brighton.

What are your opinions on street art? Let us know in the comments below!