Earlier in the year I took a short trip to Belfast, with only a couple of hours free I had to pack in my street art sights in record time. So if you’re in the Northern Irish capital and want to get your urban art fix, look no further.
This is your turbo-charged Belfast street art tour to make the most of the time you have in the city.
Your trusty map
A total of about a mile to walk, so you can complete this pretty quickly, but you’ll want to plan at least an hour to take your time, grab some photos and get up close to the art.
Where to stay
If you’ve got options – get yourself a spot in the Cathedral Quarter. All the action is walkable, and there’s plenty to see and do after you’ve ticked off your culture stops. I stayed at the Bullitt Hotel on Church Lane which had it’s own hidden artwork…the only way to catch a glimpse being to have a room overlooking the courtyard.
If you choose to stay elsewhere you’ll be guaranteed to catch more from the artist, Visual Waste, on the streets of Belfast.
High Street Court
Drop your bags, and hit the streets.
It’s a quick hop, skip and a jump to an excellent introduction to Belfast’s urban art offering. This first piece is by Aussie artist Smug, who coincidentally calls Scotland his home.
Smug’s slightly twisted realism adorns the gable end of one of the blocks on the High Street. I knew Belfast was famous for its linen and shipbuilding, but I wasn’t aware of an especially strong connection between fishing and Belfast. Maybe this piece is a tribute to a particular chef. Either way, visually, it’s stunning and not to be missed.
Another short walk to Hill Street, a narrow, cobbled one way passage that leads to work from prominent Irish artist, Conor Harrington, in his particular blend of contemporary and modern painting.
This piece, “The Duel of Belfast, Dance by Candlelight” was painted back in 2012 and didn’t go without a few raised eyebrows at the time.
On the painting, Harrington explains, “I think there was certainly a few [raised eyebrows]…an Irish lad painting seemingly British subject matter, but my work is less about Britain and more about the colonial West in general and filtered through a decadent historical lens.”
Note the two fighting, and another looks on, doing nothing…
The red brick wall on Talbot Street, seemingly at one time an important part of a larger warehouse or building, now stands aimlessly. Were it not for the artwork of Dan Kitchener aka Dank and Sabek now painted on its surface, it might not have lasted this long.
Another of Dank’s drenched Blade Runner-esque cityscapes captures your attention and prolongs your pause in front of it. I always find his work is a kind of escapism as you can soon feel your mind wandering into these soaked, futuristic metropolises forgetting for a second your standing in the middle of a busy Belfast street.
Sat cheek by jowl with Dank is Sabek’s beautiful “Conflict” with bold flat colours and contrasting shades.
An arrow seemingly misses the crow narrowly, as it makes off with the worm. Or maybe the worm is the aggressor, attempting to strangle the crows flight. There’s definitely more than one conflict in this painting…
More on Talbot Street
Further up the same fruitful street, French born Berlin legend MTO left his mark as part of the Hit the North urban art festival of 2014 with his trademark monochrome portraits hihglghted with bright red paint.
This one, titled “The Son Of Protagoras”, is a great example of his work, and must be among one of the largest MTO artworks in Europe.
Protagoras, a proponent of agnosticism once wrote: “Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life.”
An interesting choice of subject, given the location. Spot the two red arrows seemingly carrying symbols of catholicism and protestantism, skewering the dove – a symbol of peace…
Take Donegall Street and double back onto North Street for a further glut of murals and shutters.
A familiar face from my hometown, Elph, can be found on the shutter of the former fishing tackle, now art shop, J Braddell & Sons Ltd. His work, inspired by Japanese culture and landscapes is so good to look at. Getting up close is a must, the way he uses the spraycan to create some of the deftest touches on his paitnings always fascinates me.
One of my favourite spots from my visit rests just a little further along North Street – in and around the car park on your left hand side, and the seemingly derelict upper floors of the adjacent office block.
A selection of my favourite pieces below – this spot seems to be a bit more dynamic than some of the others meaning some of these might not be here when you go, but this gives you a flavour of what to expect.
I was particularly interested in the long piece depicting controversial DUP leader Arlene Foster. I’d stick my mortgage on this artist not being much of a DUP fan…
Lower Garfield Street
Another area with more ephemeral artwork, plenty fresh paint around this area when I dropped by, and seemingly a spot for more “traditional” letters based work, but not exclusively. Some nice work here to check out and well worth a walk through.
I enjoyed this particular piece which looked to have been dismantled and rebuilt on a dark night. Popping out the top looks to be the background of an older Elph piece…it all works really nicely together although probably not intentionally.
Nip past the Belfast Central Library to enjoy some larger scale works along this strip from the likes of Le Bos with his 90s aesthetic, Andy Council with more incredible animal like figures, and Artista whose work is pretty prominent around London these days and definitely worth checking out.
Probably my favourite of the Kent Street work came from EMIC – “3d glasses in sunflower”.
This particular painting reminds me of El Mac’s work, possibly because of the figurative monochrome piece surrounded by the vibrant colours. That said EMIC’s work is not merely a cut and paste, far from it. A definite highlight from this trip.
The final stops of this tour – by this stage you’ve ticked off some of Belfast’s major street art sites and collected more than a few photos.
Spin around from EMIC’s work and you’ll catch a glimpse of Parisien artist Kashink, notable in street art circles for her delicate moustache painted on her upper lip.
Her characters, usually men, “preferably fat and hairy, looking like badass yet sensitive gangsters, alien-looking ogres, or shamans from ancient tribes” are unmistakably hers.
Similar in their vibrancy, vividness and immediate likeability to the work of Mr Penfold and Malarky, but with the clear influence from Frida Kahlo’s work, most notably through her inclusion of references to Amerindian and Mexican culture.
This particular piece from 2016 focusses on women’s rights, not men, and is especially poignant given current revelations in the press…
Head south along Union Street and keep your eyes peeled for the last bit of work from Glasgow local Conzo Throb collaborating with Elph, his playful characters adorning the shutter of the delghtfully named “Belfast Meats”, nicely combined with Elph’s trippy background work.
And that’s us! Plenty more to be seen in Belfast though, these are just to get you started. If you have more than just the hour or so that I had you’ll have little trouble finding new and different work in these locations, and close by.
As always, if you use this tour, share your photos with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – and share the tour with anyone you know who’s into their art and travelling to this fascinating city.