Bristol is poised for the return of Upfest, which transforms Bedminster into a blank canvas for some of the world’s most talented graffiti and street artists. Jenny Hayes met up with a few of the guys involved to find out what’s in store…


How did Upfest start?

I’ve always had an interest in art, but about nine years ago I started doing a bit of painting myself. I thought I’d try and get a few of the people I’d met out painting together to have a paint session. So, with support from one of Upfest’s original founders, I approached the Tobacco Factory and told them I had loads of great artists who wanted to come and paint at their place… then I spoke to the artists and told them I had a really great venue for them to paint. Neither was strictly true at that point, but luckily it all came off within a week and one Sunday afternoon in October 2008, 15 artists got together to paint underneath the car park area of the Tobacco Factory. And it just grew from there.

What did you want to achieve with the festival?

Although we do have the elite painting here, Upfest is really about giving opportunities to artists and making it accessible to everyone. So the problem when it becomes so popular is that you have to start selecting, which goes against our philosophy. We keep to a minimum standard, but at the same time there are emerging artists who may not have all the skills yet but who have potential and are coming up with lots of great ideas, so we try and give them opportunities. Upfest celebrates both graffiti and street art.

How do the two relate?

People sometimes have the misconception that graffiti artists have turned into street artists, which is not the case. Graffiti artists are the writers who will paint their name in an artistic form, sometimes spending days doing one piece. Alongside them are a group of old school muralists who tend to do more cartoon-like characters. These are the guys who’ve been painting for the last 30 years. Street art is a new genre that has appeared in the last decade or so, and consists of a variety of artists – fine artists, illustrators, contemporary artists, abstract artists, and stencilists – who see the benefit of painting big, and painting on the street where everyone can see their work.

Why did you choose My Dog Sighs to do the branding for this year’s festival?

Each year we commission a different artist to do the branding, and up until this year we’ve always used Bristol artists – like Cheo and Andy Council. My Dog Sighs is an artist who has been with us pretty much from the start, and we really like his stuff. So we felt he could represent what the festival is about.

What other projects are going on that we can look forward to?

As 2015 is the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, we’ve been working with the languages department at Bristol Uni on an outreach programme in which kids from 10 different local schools paint their own 10 x 8ft panels to create one long wall at St Francis Church. We’ve also invited Thierry Noir, the first artist to paint on the Berlin Wall, to take part in the festival. And there’s loads of other things going on too – as well as the live painting there’s music, activities and stalls to look round.

All that must attract quite a variety of visitors?

It does! We find it quite easy to engage a younger audience, which traditional art forms sometimes find difficult to do, so that’s really good. Lots of families also come to the festival as there are workshops for kids and open spaces, and because it’s so transient if there’s a busy area you can just walk on. Then there’s the die hard graffiti and street art fans who’ll travel from across the UK, and even the world, to come to the festival. And, we get big buses of older people who come especially to see the street art – which is unexpected, but great.

There’s expected to be 25,000 visitors this year – that must take a lot of organising?

The whole festival does! Because our budget is really limited, we only have a small core team – who work for free – and then rely on volunteers as the festival gets closer. About 40 come from our partner charity, NACOA, but we always need a lot more. So if anyone’s interested – please get in touch.

Upfest supports local charity NACOA (National Association of Children of Acoholics). As well as providing a number of services to children across the UK, they operate a free helpline, tel: 0800 358 3456. For more information about the charity, and for details about this year’s Upfest, 25-27 July, or to volunteer, visit: