“Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. It’s the voice of people who aren’t listened to,” said street artist Banksy in 2001.
In his book Banging Your Head Against a Brik Wall Banksy encapsulates what it means to empower people through street art. Now, almost two decades on from the release of his book, the allusive artist could have never conceived that the words “one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing” would be so reflective of the world we live in today.
At this time of struggle, we have born witness to immense acts of kindness across communities up and down the country, with many incredible people doing their bit to ensure that the fantastic key workers we all rely on are appreciated.
Amid the gloom of lockdown, artist Rachel List has been sprinkling the town of Pontefract, West Yorkshire with her moving and empowering murals to thank the NHS.
Now the artist has paired up with Essex gallery owner John Brandler to create a limited-edition version of her piece We Love You NHS. This partnership began after John had to close his business in Brentwood due to Covid-19, his age and other external factors. Like many of us, John’s daily routine now looks very different. He says, “I’m now having to learn a new skill, it’s called relaxing”; but John doesn’t seem to have mastered the art of relaxing just yet. After seeing Rachel’s work, he realised “I wanted to do something to contribute and Rachel’s work is making people smile.”
The first 500 copies of the piece will first be made available to NHS staff members who contact John with a photograph of their NHS ID card, completely free of charge. Speaking about the project John reflected on how moved he was by Rachel’s work, adding, “It just hit me how wonderful it was and how it encapsulated everything the nation is feeling about the NHS.”
John wants this project to be a way of giving a more personal thank you to those who are risking their lives for us all every day: “I appreciate that money is needed for supplies but sometimes it’s nicer to receive something more personal like a single red rose or a box of chocolates.” Copies of the art will be sent as a token of gratitude to each recipient, a future reminder of the struggles we have faced and a statement of how strong the National Health Service is.
In addition to the 500, there will be 100 signed copies of Rachel’s work. “The idea behind these pieces is that people will buy them and donate them to local hospitals,” John explains. “This artwork is of value, it will be a collector’s piece in the future and it is possible that there will be a street art museum in the United Kingdom in the near future and Rachel’s work will be featured.”
While John works on his plans to distribute these little pieces of joy, there is no doubt Rachel will continue to spread hope through Pontefract and the whole country with her work. And at a time when it feels like we have almost nothing, the sense of community feels stronger than ever before, with people joining together in solidarity with the NHS and all key workers. Even at a time when most of us are stuck behind our own four walls. Just like Rachel and John.