The Big Chill House in King’s Cross was host to Love Spain, Hate Bullfighting last Thursday evening, a street art competition ran by the League Against Cruel Sports, in association with Don’t Panic. The work they do is very commendable and campaign against the unnecessary and brutal cruelty towards animals in the name of sport. Their message is simple: enjoy the Spanish culture, the food, the beaches, the history. But don’t support their bullfighting arena. A speech made by a representative from the league informs me of some shocking facts. Subsidies from the EU fund this trade every year – to the tune of £20 million in fact. Inadvertently, we are supporting it through our taxes, which hits home quite hard.
I was more than happy to sign their petition, agreeing to never visit a bullfight, as was everyone else who came to support the evening. Running simultaneously in Barcelona, was the same event, announcing their own winner. The aim of this competition was for talented street artists to come up with a design that promotes the ‘Love Spain, Hate Bullfighting’ message, whilst celebrating Spain’s many attributes.
After scanning the room a few times (and with a complimentary bottle of Estrella Damm in hand – nice touch LACS), I settle upon the poster of Genevieve Beharry from Toronto, Canada. The powder blue and blood red palette is subtle yet effective, with your attention draw immediately to the strong form of a bull’s head shaped as a heart in the centre of the page. The poster is beautifully symmetrical, with simplified lines and shapes to describe the bull’s features. The black typography has quite a romantic sensibility, like the signature of a love letter. Flowing voluptuous curves follow the ascenders, bowls and descents of each letter, hugging the emphatic image of the bull at the core. The words have a hand crafted feel to it, like Beharry may have rendered them herself. This makes for quite a pleasing contrast between the hand made and the computer generated – both playing off one another harmoniously. As with all of the posters here, type and image are both necessary and important components to the design of the poster and this isn’t an easy balance to get right. Beharry successfully melds these elements together in a coherent way for the viewer to read. She says of her approach to the brief, “I wanted to do something simple and iconic for this poster. I chose not to focus on any violent aspects of bullfighting visually, and instead made a bull’s head into a heart, to represent the word ‘love’”.
One of my few favourite pieces on display is by Manchester based artist Melanie McPhail. Less graphically influenced than some of the other entries here, her delicate and charming illustration still manages to pack a punch. A brown paper background is the foundation for this hand-drawn image. A duo of graphite pencil and colour pencil work together to form a bull in the foreground and what appears to be a landscape of hills behind it. At first it looks like drops of blood are cascading down the hill to the bull from a gated, Spanish coat of arms. On closer inspection, they are tiny red love hearts and it becomes clear that the ambiguous nature of them was intentional by McPhail. The artist plays on this specific style of illustration with the hand drawn type, in a naïve manner. ‘Love Spain’ is in lowercase and again, in joined-up handwriting that sits above ‘HATE BULLFIGHTING’, in thicker, blocked capitals. In this way, her point is emphasized, the gentle nature of the first part of the slogan is submissive to the forcefulness of the latter. She may not be as literal with her point as others are, but I think this works to her advantage – finding a way to communicate the rather brutal message in a subtle way. McPhail says, “Spanish people should be embracing the power and beauty of this animal, which represents their country, instead of killing it”.
The work of Matt Glen is a strong contrast to the style of the previously described posters. The remit of ‘street art’ is probably most apparent in this case, as we are presented with a plaque nailed to a white-washed wall. Made to imitate the sort of sign that you would see in a housing estate to warn children against ball games, the plate reads, ‘no bull games’. You may decide at first that this is perhaps a rather cheesy pun, but it is also simple and straight to the point. There is nothing flowery or over embellished about his approach and this means that it translates well, in a language that can be understood across the board. It does make me consider what is the most effective way of communicating a message such as this. Is it better to convey something in plain and simple terms at the expense of making it look what might be considered, a beautiful illustration? The use of red on white is a very powerful visual technique for high impact and certainly reaches the mark. There is also something about the photographic element to the work that makes it feel more tangible, like it is a real documentation as opposed to a drawing.
The winner was announced at the end of the evening, a very deserving Rianne Rowlands. As I am having thoughts of making tracks, I note that although every single poster entered in this competition has used a palette of reds, blacks and whites or variations thereof and this has been completely coincidental. I discover from an organiser from the League Against Cruel Sports, that the brief never specified the colours to be used. There seemed to be a unified response to the brief, not only in the choice of colour and printing methods but also in the need and want to make a worthwhile statement. It was encouraging to see people come together in this way and to engage young people in this campaign.
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