The Bristol Magazine’s editor Amanda Nicholls get a lesson in the ways of ‘nebular funk’ from long-standing city street artist Cheba, ahead of Upfest
It doesn’t feel as though there are many plain, ordinary walls left in Southville these days, with gorgeous, eye-catching art round pretty much every corner. A good thing, that suits the area, we think most folk agree. So, when offered the chance to put our stamp on a little patch of it and get into the spirit of Upfest, we jumped at it. Of course, we’d need a bit (a lot) of help. Having rocked up at the Tobacco Factory courtyard – where said patch is waiting to be jazzed up – we’re introduced to our teacher for the afternoon, Trevor.
It takes us a while to cotton on that Trevor is, in fact, Cheba – long-standing member of the Bristol alfresco art scene and pioneer of the genre, with a distinctive body of work now mostly comprising striking celestial scenes. You’ll have seen his stuff, most likely, adorning local spots like The Full Moon in Stokes Croft. His artworks have earned him gigs with the likes of Red Bull; seen him exhibit all over the world, including the House of Commons; open his own gallery, Weapon of Choice; and share space with the likes of Inkie, Nick Walker and Banksy.
So here we are, stood before a stark blank canvas – beside an amazing painting of a wand-toting Alan Rickman sporting an Aladdin Sane bolt – with a veritable street art supremo, feeling like today could be the day our complete lack of artistic talent is exposed… No pressure, then. First things first, Cheba gives us a rundown of the different kinds of caps we can fix to our cans – soft caps for stencils, highlights and such; fat caps for filling out large areas; thin caps for detail work – and shows us the angles needed to achieve different effects.
We point our colours – first, a sky blue to go over the black base layer of our galaxy – slightly up and away from the wall to create a light coverage. Then, with dark blues, purples and a bright yellow fluoro that’s sprayed over the top to create the look of an aurora, we layer up the rest of the wall with ‘nebula funk’ as Cheba calls it, before adding in star clusters and comets by spraying directly onto the wall – making sure to push down on the cap with the right amount of pressure so as not to cause the paint to dribble down the wall.
It’s really quite relaxing. “I usually put my headphones in and listen to a bit of hip hop, jazz, rock, jungle or maybe classical while I paint,” says Cheba. “I’ve been doing it for about 16 years now and it’s interesting how, in that time, perceptions have changed so much. I’ve gone from ‘vandal’ to ‘graffiti artist’ to ‘street artist’ to ‘artist’.”
Back in the early 2000s, Cheba started out ‘hunting walls’ and decorating the city with his own minimalist characters before the idea of space and the contrast between nature and urban environments came to influence his work. “I always like to try new painting techniques and I’d been working on some more abstract pieces in my studio,” he remembers. “I was asked to design a Gromit for the Gromit Unleashed trail and found this new way of painting more free and exciting so I went with it and kept experimenting.”
Within just an hour, we’ve created a pretty complex Milky Way – and to our great surprise, Cheba gives us a 10 out of 10, praising our ‘natural’ can control. (Of course, he’s humouring us, we decide, as we step back and admire the view.) True, street art has stepped up a gear in recent years, but looking at what today’s painters create – and the level of skill it takes – it’s hard to believe it would ever be considered anything but art. So keep an eye out for Cheba at Upfest this month – he’ll be collaborating with Fanakapan – and y’know, if you fancy it, you can always take a peek at our handiwork too…
For commissions, contact Cheba at artbycheba.com
To find out more about Upfest, go to www.upfest.co.uk