Nestled in the heart of Stokes Croft, The Matchbox Gallery shows and sells an eclectic mix of art, prints, t-shirts and sculptures. The work featured comes mainly from graffiti and street artists - a small reflection of the area in which it resides. We caught up with Bruno, the gallery owner and an artist himself, to talk about how the space evolved. Photos shown are from last month's exhibition: View From a Matchbox
"Part of the appeal of The Matchbox is in its unconventional and anti-establishment nature, it takes a huge step away from the contemporary art world and provides a platform for street artists and graffiti writers to engage with an audience in a slightly different manner to usual."
The aptly named Matchbox Gallery makes up for what is is lacking in size with plenty of creativity and community. Each exhibition opening attracts a cross section of Stokes Croft regulars - artists, students and the odd street drinker fill the small space and spill out onto the pavements. Bruno explained that the gallery came about largely due to this interaction; originally used as his personal studio Bruno found his friends and random passers-by were constantly interested in what was happening in the space. After a few successful pop-up shows the space was converted into a permanent gallery.
Regularly open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and occasionally earlier in the week, the space is managed by Bruno as well as some of the artists who exhibit, giving the gallery a community feel and meaning that with any luck you’ll get to speak with the artists whose work you’re viewing. The work exhibited all fits under the fairly broad category of street art and graffiti, falling very much in line with the artwork adorning the surrounding city walls. Bruno points out that many of the artists exhibiting distance themselves from the conventional ‘white cube’ gallery, preferring to paint a wall, street or subway, ultimately choosing a canvas without restrictions (other than those of a legal nature).
"a large part of his custom come from those that were part of the original graffiti scene (that co-existed with the hip-hop and rave culture of the 90’s) who are now the older generation, but their interests are the same. "
Part of the appeal of The Matchbox is in its unconventional and anti-establishment nature, it takes a huge step away from the contemporary art world and provides a platform for street artists and graffiti writers to engage with an audience in a slightly different manner to usual. While creating work on the street will always be the main component of their work, it is often painted over again and again and is rarely a format which an audience can purchase. The artwork on show is a smaller version of that which adorns the walls of Stokes Croft, allowing the artists a space in which they feel comfortable selling canvasses and prints of their work without succumbing to the requirements of a conventional gallery. Bruno explains this has a knock on effect by ‘legitimising the work of street artists in the eyes of the police and the wider community’.
The comfortable attitude extends to the audience too, Bruno tells me of the variety of visitors he has ranging from a 9 year old boy buying his first piece of art to grandparents buying pieces of work for themselves, the space is certainly welcoming. Bruno goes on to explain that a large part of his custom come from those that were part of the original graffiti scene (that co-existed with the hip-hop and rave culture of the 90’s) are now the older generation, but their interests are the same. Now they have money to spend and house walls to decorate they’re looking to bring a bit of that street culture into their homes.
"...opinion of street art and graffiti is still split and it likely always will be."
Bruno concedes that opinion of street art and graffiti is still split and that it likely always will be. Although attitudes in the UK and Bristol especially have changed in recent years it is in many instances still an illegal activity and, although the artists are extremely talented, this is often overlooked in favor of the legality of the act itself. Bruno sums it up quite nicely saying ‘opinions have been split since the first cave man painted his hand on a wall, there was probably a guy behind him saying “what the fuck are you doing, we should be out picking berries and shit?!”’. Go take a look for yourself - The Matchbox Gallery, 87 Stokes Croft, Bristol. Or find them online here
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