Street art is having a moment. While galleries are closed, deserted cities across the UK offer an irresistible canvas for creatives.
They paint a powerful and political picture, reflecting the hope, joy and sorrow of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Ultimately it’s art with a message,” London artist Atila told Sky News.
“I’m a portrait painter and I like celebrating people through my art, but this is like a special thank you to the NHS heroes.”
Standing in front of his mural in south London, which features a nurse in a face mask, he said the street is like a “public gallery”.
He said that although some people question whether the street art is legal, most of the time he gets a positive response.
“Most people don’t see the process of art being created with spray paint,” he continued. “Something of this scale, art with a message, [people] stop, have a chat, take photos, and that completes the process for me.”
Street artist Nathan Bowen’s inspiration has also been a desire to paint a love letter of sorts to frontline workers.
The ambulance he has painted in Shoreditch is “close to my heart”, he said, because his brother’s partner is a frontline health worker.
“I think street art is so important right now because people are just going shopping to Tesco or on their way to work and all they are seeing is dead boards. Street art raises the vibe,” he added.
Harry Blackmore’s latest graffiti artwork is a more literal depiction of COVID-19 itself.
“This one’s more of a representation of what’s going on right now, you know the virus and how it’s affecting everyone,” he said.
This artwork is mature and thoughtful and is not to be confused with or dismissed as mindless graffiti by bored teenagers in lockdown.
As if to validate the trend, the mega stars of the art world have also been releasing new pandemic-inspired works.
Two new Banksy pieces have caused a stir – rats running riot in the bathroom, posted on Instagram, and a homage to NHS workers which appeared at Southampton Hospital.
Entitled Game Changer, the mural of a little boy playing with a superhero nurse was left with a note which read: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit.”
British graffiti artist STIK, who is known for painting large stick figures, has unveiled a new artwork called We Are Together at London’s iconic Piccadilly Lights as part of a campaign to support young people during the pandemic.
And as museums and galleries remain indefinitely closed, many institutions are finding increasingly innovative ways to bring art out from behind closed doors.
The National Gallery has teamed up with Ocean Outdoor to show works of art on big advertising screens around the country.
Lawrence Chiles, head of digital services at the National Gallery, explained: “Whilst we’ve been closed, we’re trying to bring our artworks out so people can see in different locations whether that’s in the home or on the streets.
“Hopefully they’ll be inspired to come and visit us when we reopen in the near future.”
The works on show to look out for on your drive include Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Monet’s The Water Lily Pond, and Vigee Le Brun’s Self Portrait In A Straw Hat.
“The importance of culture in times of stress is well-documented and is really key,” Mr Chiles said.
Next week from Monday to Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World – a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.
We’ll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. And you can take part too.
If you’d like to be in our virtual audience – from your own home – and put questions to the experts, email [email protected]