GRAFFITI is an odd concept. To some it is an art form, to others it’s a political statement. To many, it’s just vandalism.
I talked to Cardiff graffiti artist Bryce “Best” Davies about what it means to him and why he set up The Boiler House, Wales’s first Graffiti and Street Art gallery.
The quiet, middle-class suburb of Llandaff North seems an odd place for the hub of graffiti art in Cardiff to be tucked away.
Situated opposite the village bowling green, the gallery takes its name from a former life as a Victorian laundry building.
Bryce’s studio takes up half of the old, damp warehouse. The other half is exhibition space, the walls adorned with huge, bold words and cartoon characters.
There is also more than 100 feet of wall space outside, forming a corridor of graffiti as you enter the building.
According to Bryce, the gallery itself was an afterthought.
“We found out about this place from Tactile Bosch, the gallery next door. For two years before that we had been painting in the Lansdowne Hotel in Canton, but the pub got sold and we had to find somewhere else.
“We don’t actually make any money from the gallery – just enough to cover the costs of the studio. We get temporary events licenses for shows and run a bar.”
Despite only being in place for a year, the Boiler House has welcomed graffiti artists from all over the country, including the SIN Cru collective from Kent.
The next exhibition, opening on February 18, features two artists from Birmingham, KEMEF inc., who have been hailed graffiti royalty since starting up over 25 years ago.
The gallery is the latest part of Peaceful Progress, an initiative set up by Bryce 10 years ago, which undertakes commissions and runs community-based projects.
“Peaceful Progress captured an idea, a concept of working through trying stuff but staying true to your art – being creative but not in a commercial way.
“It’s about the journey of your own creativity.”
After a run-in with the law over illegal painting, Bryce moved into a studio on the Kings Road in Pontcanna, where he found himself working alongside other types of artists.
“Coming from a graffiti background to being with fine artists opened my eyes to how other people worked, so it was a really positive experience.”
Along with other Peaceful Progress artists such as Andy Fung, James Charlton, Brian Watkins and Dafydd Fortt, Bryce began showing work across Cardiff, before leaving Wales for two years to run away with the circus.
“I was travelling with the circus and painting backdrops when I met up with an old flame, who’s now my girlfriend, Jodie. We moved back to Cardiff and that signified a new part of Peaceful Progress.”
Bryce and partner Jodie then set about the next phase of the project.
“We had a plan to build a big venue – I’d been working the festival circuit, building and painting 125 ft graffiti walls.
“From that, we got a PA and some solar panels and set up a solar-powered graffiti caravan.”
After moving to Canton, Peaceful Progress found its first permanent venue.
“The Lansdowne was this big, old men’s pub on its arse that nobody was going to. We set up a night called Dub in the Pub, which became the biggest reggae night in Cardiff.”
“You had the inside of the pub which we painted and also the outside space and the caravans.”
But when the pub was sold, Peaceful Progress found its permanent home in Llandaff North.
“The Boiler House has got its own identity outside of Peaceful Progress, but it’s still us behind it.
"It’s accessible to the public who have no idea about graffiti. It’s an environment where anyone and their family can just walk in off the street.
“We get all sorts of people, aged from 15 up to 40s and older. Everyone assumes it’s just young people, but we get first generation graffiti artists right through to young kids.”
The project also does work in the community, working with young offenders as well as painting public walls and council commissions.
But while Bryce does not condone vandalism, he believes there is still a place for illegal painting.
“There’s a difference between tagging someone’s house and painting something beautiful on an old abandoned building.
“A lot of Graffiti culture is about making your mark. When you’re young it’s about having more tags than anyone else.”
“Painting corporate people, like tagging Tescos, is a feeling of anarchy. But what’s most exciting is that it’s a transient thing. You can make mistakes.”
The artists’ work is painted straight on to the gallery walls before being sprayed over by the next exhibition.
The Kem and Mef exhibition opens on Friday February 18 from 7pm-11:30pm, featuring music and a bar, followed by an all day live Graffiti Jam on Saturday 19 from 11am-7pm.