Thursday, 5 August 2010

A Bear Lived Here

Its been a while since i have painted on Stokes Croft so when i realised i had a couple of days free this week i finally managed to get around to painting a photo-graffiti style street scene on the old Target Electronics building on Cheery Street.

I must give a mention to fellow TCF brothers Paris and Eko who i painted over - their pieces were a couple of the best i have seen on the croft for ages. Paris's space age lettering and retro fade fill-in allongside Eko's classic wigged out letters and 2D b-boy character were the business. But it was time for me to reclaim this wall!

Once i had blacked it out, i painted the white base coat on and returned the following day to add the colours. I soon got sidetracked by my best man who collected me for an evening sampling the real ales and ciders up at the Inn on the Green, but this morning with a very heavy head i popped back down there to add in the finishing touches.

The original photograph of the street scene was taken almost a year ago now from the doorway of DHS heating store at the junction of Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft, opposite what is now 'The Canteen'. I had originally planned to add a spoof advert or logo in the over-exposed billboard area above 'Turbo Island', but in the months it took me to get around to actually getting this painting executed i learned of the passing of Bear the Street Poet.

Alan 'Bear' Smith lived in Jamaica Street hostel for around 3 years but was considered homeless with dependancies on drugs and alcohol. He was a face i recognised from the area having worked on Stokes Croft daily since 2005, but the first time we had a chat that went further then the usual "Spare us any cha... - Afraid not mate", was when i was painting the first piece i did here in 2008.

Bear approached me and i must admit to being a little weary at first. But instead of the usual conversation, he began telling me how much he admired the piece i was painting. He told me about how he recognised the photographic qualities of the piece, how it must have been taken with a long exposure, and began to ask questions about my technique and shared some of the ideas he had himself for long exposure photography with added flash. I wasn't expecting that and was quite taken aback...!

Bear hung out with me for a few hours whilst i painted and continued to tell me his story. He was eloquent, interesting and at times very funny. A lot of what he told me was also really very sad. But behind this shadowy figure was a true gentleman who clearly had a massively creative mind. I feel like on that day i took a lot from him, but in retrospect the old saying 'Don't judge a book by it's cover' seems like a real lesson learned.

Another inspirational way of life that Bear lived daily was to busk with poetry. If you were lucky enough to have been in good spirits on a day that you passed Bear and crossed his palm with a little silver, he might well have free-styled a short improvised poem for you. Such was his lifestyle that i don't think much of it was written down and i doubt that much of his work exists on paper at all; but one of his poems 'I'm No Con' was read out at his cremation in January this year. It is a beautiful example of how Bear viewed the injustices he faced in his everyday life and a perfect reflection of the charming fella i spoke to that day - Amusing, thoughtful, intelligent and tragic.

I'm No Con

Through gates of grey I made my way

no bail on this redemption day.

And so I’m made to stand in line

and then to sit, and then to sign.

And reluctantly they invite me to dine

on a microwave meal with no appeal

more reluctantly I break the seal.

But before I’ve had the chance to eat

a faceless voice barks “on your feet”.

And bottom inspectors

like funeral directors

probe naked behinds with their metal detectors.

And as they sing and clich├ęs swing

I’m dispatched as a package to the wing.

And at the top of the end of the stairs

I’m reunited with my dodgy chairs

My second bunk, my ancient isles

those funny little faces, those ancient smiles.

So thanks for the tea, the chips, the peas

the bravest jangling of your bloody keys.

And while you work I’ll take my ears

and ponder on life’s many ironies.

The most profound of all of these

being imprisoned by chimpanzees.

Alan 'Bear' Smith

I received the most touching compliment from a passer-by today who stopped me to tell me that seeing Bear "back on the Croft, where he belongs..." gave him goose-bumps - He used to share a room with Bear back at Jamaica Street hostel. Im unaware that any of my paintings have had that affect on anyone before...

So this one is for Bear and anyone who knew him. Thanks for the time you gave me Bear, your words live on.

1 comment:

Adam Thoroughgood said...

Lovely write-up, and quality piece. Superb.