A whistle-stop tour of Leicester's graffiti and street art

Coinciding with the end of Bring the Paint 2024, Aarini Mehta walks Leicester and highlights the city's rich tapestry of street art.

Dublin-based Irish artists ACHES working on their mural.
Dublin-based Irish artists ACHES whose work often features bright colours and 3D effects. Photograph: Aarini Mehta / Great Central Gazette

With an active street art scene since the 1980s, Leicester is home to a plethora of graffiti and street art, amplifying the multiculturalism of the city. Murals range from the history of the city, Bollywood actresses and the successes of Leicester's football and rugby teams. 

The popularity of street art has increased in Leicester considerably. Murals around the city celebrate the culture, history, and diversity of the city. Currently, most of Leicester’s street art is currently facilitated by the artist collective Graffwerk and the graffiti store GraffHQ. They have undertaken various projects in the city, but perhaps the most significant is the development of the mural on St George’s Tower on Granby Street, making Leicester home to the tallest piece of street art in Europe. 

Street art on St George's Tower in Leicester.
Leicester is home to the tallest street art in Europe. Photograph: Aarini Mehta / Great Central Gazette

The 82-metre tall mural was painted by Leicester-based artists Wing Lo, Richard Peacock and Leigh Drummond, and were assisted by Ben Edwards and Kiene Tuckley. It portrays Leicester’s unique heritage and culture, including many of the city's symbols: a fox, an astronaut, a strand of DNA, the symbol of diversity, and a tiger.

In 2023, a new mural that celebrates the history of Leicester Market was revealed to the public. The mural shows events dating back to the medieval age and mentions key events in the history of the city, including the Fish Market and Corn Exchange. Alice Hawkins, an important figure in securing women’s right to vote, and the UK’s first Labour prime minister, Ramsay Macdonald, an MP from Leicester, are also featured.

Mural celebrating Leicester market and suffragette Alice Hawkins.
Alice Hawkins also has a statue nearby. Photograph: Aarini Mehta / Great Central Gazette

Makers' Yard at Rutland Street is the oldest surviving hosiery factory in the East Midlands. It is now a studio space for artists and design makers. The rich history of the Makers' Yard and the city’s creative industry is now depicted on a large-scale mural designed by renowned artist Philth

Following Leicester City Football Club’s magical Premier League winning season of 2015/16, murals were designed inside King Power Stadium, and many were created outside and much further from the stadium. These can be seen around Tudor Road, Burnmoor Street and Kate Street. Further, to commemorate the Foxes’ 2021 FA Cup win, a magnificent mural was painted by the Australian street artist Smug. Celebrating the Leicester Tigers’ history of being the most successful rugby club, murals have been painted on the walls of their Welford Road stadium and on the walls opposite it. 

Mural celebrating Leicester City Football Club.
Leicester's football club mural near De Montfort University. Photograph: Aarini Mehta / Great Central Gazette

Located on the Golden Mile, perhaps the heart of the Indian community in Leicester, there are glamorous murals of the icons of Bollywood: Sridevi, Rekha and Madhubala, painted by local street artist MONO in 2017 and 2018. As part of Leicester’s annual ‘Indian Summer Festival’, these murals have added further to the vibrancy and liveliness of the area. 

The project ‘Art on the Waterways’ in collaboration with the Canal and River Trust led to creation of murals that give information and honour the heritage and the history of the waterways. Work can be seen all along the River Soar and the Grand Union Canal. 

To acknowledge the former Art Deco theatre that formerly resided at Belgrave Gate, the Savoy Street was created, and covers three buildings on the road connecting the Haymarket and St Margaret’s bus stations. The theatre is given recognition by heritage typography and graphics of ticket stubs on the mural. 

Mural celebrating The Savoy Leicester.
The Savoy Mural near St Margaret's bus station. Photograph: Aarini Mehta / Great Central Gazette

In 2021, BID Leicester worked with the local arts organisation ArtReach to commission works in pub courtyards around the city centre. The aim of this programme was to bring the gallery to the high street, so that people could enjoy art at venues that they love. The theme of these works include a reconnection with nature and reconnecting with other people following the global pandemic. Works were designed by artists all over the UK, and seven works were installed in six locations. 

Leicester hosts one of the biggest international street art festivals: Bring the Paint. Every year, it welcomes street and graffiti artists from locations like Canada, America, Australia, France, Greece and around the UK to paint the walls of the city. The festival includes a range of activities, from live art and music to workshops and exhibitions. Since its inauguration in 2017, the festival has changed the landscape of Leicester. 

The works created during the festival over the years can be seen all around the St George’s Cultural Quarter, Frog Island, and around Haymarket and St Margarets. 

Mural on frog island.
Frog island is home to numerous pieces of street art. Photograph: Aarini Mehta / Great Central Gazette

The fourth instalment of this festival was from 20-26 May 2024, and was a joy to watch as artists from different parts of the world collaborated to create some breathtaking works of art.

One such piece was ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’, based on the epic from ancient Mesopotamia. It was created by the French artists Jo Ber and M’Poes

Mural of the Epic of Gilagmesh.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is regarded as a foundational work in religion and the tradition of heroic sagas. Photograph: Aarini Mehta / Great Central Gazette

Jo Ber said: “This is a big inspiration from the Epic of Gilgamesh, an old story, the first one written by human hand — so it is around five thousand years old. It is a rich story, about the King Gilgamesh. The one on the left, of the city Uruk, you can see the city behind, and he is not that good with his people, so God created Enkidu, on the right, to stop Gilgamesh. They start to fight, but there is no winner, so they become friends, and they go on an adventure.

 “So, for five-six years, we made pieces like these to put the epic on walls in different cities around the world. This is chapter two, only the beginning of the story.” 

This is not the first time such renowned street artists have made their way to Leicester for Bring the Paint. Artists like Smug, Philth, Sofles, Inkie Graffiti, Aches and Voyder have become very familiar names in the festival’s line-up and with works across the city.

Jo Ber further mentioned, “This is the fourth time we are coming to Leicester for the festival. Bring the Paint is a very cool festival, they invite very smart and talented people, and Leicester in the spring — it’s beautiful!”

Bring the Paint has been mentioned in The Guardian’s guide to the Top 10 UK outdoor art events

To complement Bring the Paint, Graffwerk also presented an immersive animated exhibition at the Leicester Museum and Gallery, 'Paint to Pixel: Repainting Subway Art'. Through large-scale projections and in-depth interviews, the exhibition uncovered some captivating stories from some of the most well-known graffiti writers. 

A street art subway train with a sign above it which reads 'Graffiti is everywhere - but is commercial street art really the same as graffiti?'
Subway art at Leicester Museum and Gallery. Photograph: Aarini Mehta / Great Central Gazette

Leicester has become a big name in the UK when it comes to street art. But perhaps what characterises the uniqueness of street art in Leicester, is the dedication to celebrating the cultural mosaic that the city is, which just adds to its appeal.

  • More photos from Bring the Paint 2024 and street art around Leicester are available in our image bank here. All photos are free to use, with credit.

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