The Writing’s On The Wall

It dates back to the ancient civilisations of Greece, Rome and Egypt. It’s been sold for hundreds of thousands; exhibited in galleries; and you probably walk past it every time you leave your house. With its growing popularity, graffiti is moving out of the shadows and taking pride of place on the face of our cities.

Elph is a street artist who has been painting Edinburgh’s walls for over 20 years, covering the city with his unique style of colourful illustrations. He has also become a world famous talent and exhibited all over the globe alongside artists such as Banksy. He spoke to us about why street art is so enduringly popular.

Elph explains that the street art scene in Scotland has developed organically over the last few decades. “I started to do graffiti when there wasn’t a ‘street art’ scene, so I suppose that has changed a lot. In Edinburgh in the 90s it was still mainly graffiti writing that was going on. Some artists did sticker, plus there were some people from the art college who messed a little with putting posters up, but on the whole I rarely remember anyone doing posters or paste-ups until the end of the 90s.”

He says that he and the crews he worked with were inspired by other artists around the globe, including ones operating in San Diego and Melbourne.

He credits Adam Neate (one of the best known street artists in the world) with the development of his own ethos: “He got me into the idea of putting artwork up in the street.”

Elph also mentions some home-grown heroes, such as Derm (who he has worked with in the past) and Bernie Reid, who brought stencil techniques back from Paris at the start of the millennium. “He did a load of multi layered stencils around the city centre and Leith that were quite influential. His work was quite important; date wise, he was pre-Banksy.”

Part of the appeal of the artwork, Elph says, is its accessibility. “A lot of people like it because it’s not as pretentious or silly as what is presented to the public as art; it’s fairly straightforward in its presentation. I also think that the subject matter helps people relate to it as it is mainly character based.”

Overall, Elph believes that street art adds to, rather than detracts from, the beauty of our urban landscapes. “The colour plays a big part. Scotland is a grey place a great deal of the time. A little colour goes a long way.”

Take a walk around Edinburgh’s streets or up to one of the “legal walls” – places that the council have designated as free-for-all graffiti zones – and see if you agree.

Article reproduced here was published in print by Impulse Magazine (2014)

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