With the launch of our new Street Art book, we wanted to pull back the curtain on the world of this urban art form. So we caught up with Ed Bartlett – founder of The Future Tense, co-founder of MTV RE:DEFINE arts initiatives, and author of our kaleidoscopic street art guide.
Ed reveals his favourite cities for street art, gives us his top tips for newcomers to the scene and shares his love of cycling adventures, road trips and under-the-radar hotspots.
Where was your last trip?
It should have been to Dallas (one of my favourite cities) a few weeks back, but sadly pharyngitis put a stop to that. So it would have been to the Scottish Borders for New Year. I was very keen to get out on my bike, but to put it mildly, the conditions were less than ideal. Fortunately, riding 20 hilly miles on sheet ice on a road bike is my kind of fun!
Where is your next trip?
I have quite a few in the planning stages right now: Paris, Berlin, Stavanger, LA and various summer biking trips. I’m racing the final round of the Enduro World Series mountain bike championship in Finale Ligure in Italy in September, so I will likely tag on some time either side to ride in the Alps.
What is your first travel-related memory?
Packed like sardines in the boot of my uncle’s car with several of my cousins on the way to the seaside. I grew up in Devon, and we had a family caravan by the sea that we used to visit most Sundays. The drive there and back was always one of the highlights and might be why I love road trips so much.
Aisle or window seat?
Definitely a window seat. I had a pretty severe fear of flying for a few years, and whilst I’m fine now, it turned me into a bit of a control freak about travel arrangements, and seating location is definitely one of the main aspects.
Favourite country, city or region?
My favourite country has to be America. The sheer size, variety and possibilities are mind blowing. Favourite city is probably New York. I could have moved there some years back and it will forever be my Sliding Doors moment. Favourite region would be the Maritime Alps. I rode across them from north to south on a mountain bike in 2016 as part of the Trans-Provence, and the scenery, weather, food and cycling (of all types) are just exceptional.
Do you have a favourite city for street art?
New York will always have a special place in my heart, but I have to say my current hometown of Bristol takes some beating. The scene is so varied. Most of the Banksy works have been defaced but there is so much more to see, and Upfest (upfest.co.uk) – the largest street art festival in Europe – obviously brings a huge annual update. There is also a very strong graffiti writer scene here.
Where is your favourite piece of street art?
Right now it’s the PichiAvo piece in Bristol, painted for Upfest 2016. I love the way it combines contemporary graffiti with classical references like ancient Greek statues. PichiAvo recently painted the famous ‘Keith Haring’ wall at Houston and Bowery in New York city, which is equally fabulous.
How does it feel to see what used to be an underground movement take off worldwide?
It’s a bit like seeing that band you’ve loved for ages become really successful. You’re obviously really happy for them, and secretly slightly smug that you were there at the beginning, but also maybe not quite so keen on some of the newer more commercial stuff.
Speaking of underground, have you discovered any other under-the-radar treasures on your travels?
For me, a big part of travelling is not just seeing the obvious highlights, it’s about finding the hidden gems. However, these days social media is like word of mouth multiplied by a hundred, so things rarely stay under the radar for long. I am a big foodie, and a sucker for the speakeasy vibe – I will never forget my first visits to places like La Esquina in NYC or Moonshiner in Paris. Nowadays, I am much more covetous of a hidden wild camping spot – waking up to silence and an unspoilt view.
Do you see a distinction between street art and graffiti?
It’s been a contentious subject in the past, not helped by the fact that some people originally considered as graffiti writers have crossed over to street art. Essentially, graffiti is a more underground, peer-focused art form – typically painted without legal permission – and focusing on letterforms. Street art is, well, pretty much everything else. Street art still has an underground scene, but is often installed with permission and sometimes at jaw-dropping scale. And although artists like Retna and Eine still work with letterforms, street art encompasses everything from Bordalo II’s 3D trash sculptures to the incredible painterly work by people like Conor Harrington.
Do you have a favourite way to travel?
I love cities, food, culture and architecture but my absolute favourite thing is a road trip in my VW camper, along with the bikes. I try to wild camp where possible, and the West Coast of Scotland is one of my favourite destinations. I’ve also been planning a 7500-mile circular route of Europe for a while. I’m still not 100% sure when it will happen, but it’s shaping up to be the trip of a lifetime.
How do you think street art changes the way people experience a destination?
It’s part of the character of a city, almost like tattoos on a person. Each city has a unique scene, which ties in with the political and economic climate, architecture, weather… it’s a real social barometer.
Have you had any street art mishaps or fails?
The first year we did MTV RE:DEFINE we flew artist Ben Eine to Dallas to do a public mural. Unfortunately, Texas was in the grip of a heat wave – I think it was something like 75 consecutive days above 100º F. Trying to paint when it’s hitting 111ºF (44ºC) in the day is interesting to say the least.
Do you have any top tips for someone new to discovering street art?
Keep your head up. A lot of street art is above eye level, and you can easily walk past without noticing. Looking out for street art is a great way of generally observing more about a city and your surroundings. Social media is also great for seeking out specific pieces or locations using hashtags and geotagging.
What is the best or worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?
The best: definitely buying a camper van. Half of my family have them, and it’s true that once you’ve owned one, it will be part of your life forever. After a year of trial and error, I now have mine set up so I can pick up a bag and a box from the house and be on the road, literally, in minutes.
Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you’d rush to fulfil?
It would involve mountains and bikes, which would also mean I’d get a good view of the action. I could be the first – and last – to post an asteroid selfie. I’ve always wanted to take the mountain bike to Canada to ride the Vancouver North Shore and backcountry British Columbia, so that would probably be it. Knowing my luck I’d get eaten by bears on the first day.
What advice would you give a first-time traveller?
Don’t rush things for the sake of box ticking.
Inspired to seek out some street art of your own? Check out our Street Art book for 140 hotspots across 42 cities worldwide.