A Great British Spraycation: Tracing Banksy’s Footsteps on the East Anglian Coast

It all started with this video.

Banksy, the artist, enjoying a little staycation (or spraycation) in my neck of the woods? Leaving behind some new works for everyone to love and/or hate? The idea immediately caught my imagination. I had a few days off, so on a bus I hopped, to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

I found the first work in Cromer, my favourite destination for a day at the beach. I must have been there hundreds of times before, in all seasons and weather conditions, whenever I’m looking for a bit of peace, quiet and nature. The North Norfolk coast is notorious for its exploding property prices, caused by its popularity as a second-home-spot, which is great for bringing tourism-related revenue to the area but not so great for locals looking for a place to live. Banksy’s work, depicting crabs advertising luxury rentals, appears to address this problem.

The work is located on the sea wall on the edge of town and small but easy to find. One only needs to follow the crowd. If I were Banksy, I’d love to blend in and watch people taking selfies in front of said wall, and listen to them trying to make sense of it. With this first work tracked down easily, I decided to devote a bit more time to finding the other ones.

Banksy has also produced a work in Gorleston-on-Sea, a family beach near Great Yarmouth. It has already attracted some controversy: a local graffiti artist called Emo added some teddy bears to the additional design, calling it a collaboration. This prompted others to change Emo’s signature to “Ego”, presumably to mock his nerve to call himself a collaborator with the world-famous if somewhat elusive artist. Being fairly ignorant of street art etiquette, I find this quite amusing. Street artists in my own home town appear to spray over and next to each other’s work all the time, if only because of a lack of space. I quite like the fact that Banksy’s work is temporary, open to being defaced, rather than being protected and locked away in a museum most people will never visit.

On I went to Great Yarmouth, where a large work awaited me above a bus stop in a somewhat deprived neighbourhood just off the town’s seaside promenade. It’s not a bad neighbourhood per se, but definitely a place where carrying a camera conspicuously isn’t a great idea. Fortunately there weren’t many people about when I visited, but I can understand why locals would find the influx of tourists annoying if there were too many of them. Admiralty Road is just another road, nothing to see here, until Banksy decided to make his mark.

I skipped the work Banksy left at Merrivale Model Village, partially because I was alone and visiting tourist attractions all by oneself can feel a bit awkward. Also, I don’t blame the owners of the place in the slightest for commercialising the fuck out of shit of the latest addition to their collection (they must have had a tough year income-wise, after all, and I understand why they’d do anything to generate a bit of extra revenue) but after liking the spontaneity of the previous works so much I decided to give it a miss. I had cake instead.

Next day was a Lowestoft day. Lowestoft appears to be a town that is hated even by the people who live there. It feels decidedly unloved: dirty, rundown, a sorry reminder of its former glory. I wish someone would give the place a cuddle and a fresh lick of paint. The beach is beautiful, it has its fair share of gorgeous old buildings, and it doesn’t deserve its bad reputation. Anyway, a perfect destination for a street artist like Banksy. Plenty of crumbling walls to paint on.

The little boy building a sandcastle was declared “disappointing” by a lady passing by as I look some photographs. I could understand where she was coming from, though it wasn’t Banksy’s fault: the tiles that had been removed to reveal the sand the sandcastle was made from had been replaced and the work now looked unfinished. Still, I found myself in the company of several other art spotters, and it was lovely to encounter some like-minded people.

The seagull is the largest work and almost impossible to miss, sitting adjacent to a major road and close to the railway station. Makes me wonder how on earth Banksy managed to paint this without anyone noticing. I’ve been told that you can get away with anything as long as you wear a high-vis jacket, but you’d expect someone painting a huge seagull on a wall in the middle of the night would attract at least some attention from the powers that be. Apparently not. I was told by someone walking by that the contents of the skip resemble chips, a resemblance I hadn’t yet spotted myself, and was pleased to be made aware of.

I then went on a bit of a hike to Lowestoft’s North Beach. Sadly the piece was affected by condensation and looked so bad I didn’t even photograph it. Nevertheless, North Beach is well worth a visit for those who like their beaches a tad dystopian. It was a grey day threatening rain, there was hardly anyone about, and the huge concrete sea wall looked like a set straight out of Blade Runner 2049. I would never have bothered to visit the place if it weren’t for Banksy, and I am grateful to him for this alone, even if it probably wasn’t his intention.

I made a slight detour to see the UK’s most easterly point. Like everything in Lowestoft it feels like it had seen better days, and its appearance is not improved by being situated right next to a massive ugly factory and the world’s most depressing caravan park. But hey, it’s a landmark, the choppy sea was beautiful, and I decided to have lunch on a black plastic bench to savour the moment. I was joined by a brave lone seagull. He wasn’t impressed with my cream cheese bagel.

On the way back I got absolutely soaked by what the weather forecast told me was drizzle but what I would call a proper downpour, so I decided to call it a day and go home. Grateful to be inside my own home instead of a damp holiday cottage or worse, a tent, I reflected on my little adventure. I have lived in East Anglia for almost ten years yet Banksy caused me to visit places I’d never visited before, or see places I’d been to hundreds of times in a completely new light. The works itself were great, for sure, and I like to imagine how he managed to create them without being exposed, or arrested, or both. But perhaps most interesting were the conversations I’ve had with complete strangers, many of which had never seen the inside of a museum, yet they were now looking at art together with me. In a year which has had us all locked up inside our homes, unable to connect or go out to explore the world, this has been an extremely valuable experience. In my opinion it makes discussions of artistic merit obsolete: Banksy has brought people together, albeit perhaps inadvertently, and heck do we all need that after the year we’ve had.

All photos my own, works by Banksy (obviously)

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