THEY are incredible, larger than life, black and white paintings – and for some time now they have been mysteriously appearing on buildings across Sheffield.
But these murals – about a dozen of them drawn up in incredible detail and depicting characters and creatures in an apparent fantasy world – are not the work of your average graffiti artist.
Not only is each one perfectly legal and done with the permission of the building’s owner, they are also part of what is essentially a huge comic book being drawn with the city as its canvas.
Because when the huge project is completed each painting will be photographed then compiled into a tome where together they will tell a single coherent story about a character trying to pack up the old world and runaway to a new one.
The only real mystery?
Except for a few close friends, it seems, no-one is quite sure who the artist is.
Phlegm – that’s his artistic monicker – is fast becoming known as the Sheffield Banksy because, while his more conventional artwork sells for thousands of pounds, he shuns all forms of publicity, preferring instead to remain anonymous.
All we know is that he’s still in his 20s, lives in Nether Edge and has admirers around the world.
In an email to your Diarist, he rejects an interview saying simply: “I sort of feel I’ve demanded enough attention off people by altering their public space. I like to just let people dig around if they feel like it rather than being given it. Sorry,” he adds politely, “if I sound awkward.”
Perhaps, actually, in an age of desperate reality TV contestants constantly searching for five minutes of fame, it’s refreshing to (virtually) meet someone so retiring, who wants his work to speak on its own merits.
Because who Phlegm is, is perhaps less important than what he does anyway.
Certainly that is so according to those who have requested he paint something on their building, like Chris Pritchard, manager of The Riverside Pub, in Mowbray Street, Sheffield.
“What he does is absolutely amazing,” he says. “The level of detail is meticulous and the use of just black and white to make them stand out looks stunning. The number of people who come in to the pub and talk about that painting since it has gone up is amazing – people genuinely love what he’s doing.
“It came about because I wanted something on the wall overlooking the river and I’d heard he wanted somewhere to do something. He came in and spent basically five days and it was done. The speed with which he works is incredible. It’s a boat and the idea is, when the river rises, the painting will almost sit on the water.”
There are about 12 in Sheffield – including city centre locations like Leadmill Road, Westfield Terrace, Brown Street, and Rockingham Gate – as well as several on show in other cities such as Manchester and Leeds.
But there’s lots to be done, it seems before that comic book is complete
“He works really hard and he’s a lovely guy,” says close friend Emma Hudson, who sells his work in her Nether Edge shop The Old Sweet Shop. “But he hates the thought of promoting himself. He’s a bit of a hippie, he’s not sure if promoting is what an artist should do. But he’s also just very shy.”