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Bringing outdoor art to Sheffield’s urban village of Kelham

One of Joanna Whittle's pieces installed on Green Lane
One of Joanna Whittle's pieces installed on Green Lane
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There is a new art gallery in Sheffield – open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, free of charge in the open air.

Admittedly, KurbArt is not a venue per se. Running along 200 metres of a stretch of wall on Green Lane in Kelham Island – its title is a nifty portmanteau of the fashionable area’s name and the phrase ‘urban art’ – the project provides painters with the most basic of canvases.

Simon Wigglesworth Baker, Joanna Whittle, James Croft, John Wilkinson on Green Lane in Kelham Island. Picture: Will Roberts

Simon Wigglesworth Baker, Joanna Whittle, James Croft, John Wilkinson on Green Lane in Kelham Island. Picture: Will Roberts

But passers-by are now being treated to 13 pieces of specially-commissioned, large-scale work by five members of the Kelham Island Arts Collective.

Simon Wigglesworth Baker, John Wilkinson, Joanna Whittle, James Croft and Tony Caunce have produced several murals, ranging from a ceramic tile installation featuring dozens of individually-painted scenes and objects, to a huge abstract representation of sunrise and sunset in Kelham, where industry has given way to a riverside ‘urban village’.

The scheme is a partnership with property firm Citu, which is creating eco-friendly homes in the neighbourhood and is revamping the historic Green Lane Works, preserving the building’s striking, landmark clock tower. The wall was once part of Eagle Works, also revived by Citu.

The roofline of Little Kelham, the company’s development, also features in some of the KurbArt pieces, as well as local images such as gritstone edges, nature and rivers. For the five artists involved, the murals presented a number of challenges.

Tony Caunce working on his mural

Tony Caunce working on his mural

“I’m a miniature artist so I’m used to painting on a very small scale, so tackling a three-metre tall canvas took some getting used to,” said Whittle, who is responsible for two works.

“So there was a learning curve, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

The new additions to the Kelham Island streetscape were already proving popular, added Wilkinson.

“You see people interact with the pieces,” he said.

Simon Wigglesworth Baker working on his mural

Simon Wigglesworth Baker working on his mural

“People are stopping and looking, they are taking selfies with them, filming them and sharing them with friends on social media - it’s great to see.”

Wigglesworth Baker, who made the largest piece, extending to 20 metres in length, said: “We’ve installed all the art ourselves so we’ve been speaking to passers-by and the reaction has been fantastic. People are very positive and happy to see something like this on the streets and accessible to all.”

Most of the works are smaller – three metres tall on average – but not necessarily simpler. Whittle’s tiled mural contains 135 individually-painted and glazed tiles.

Kevin Gillespie, sales and marketing director at Citu, said: “We had a space, and we wanted to fill it with something beautiful. KIAC has done exactly that, turning Green Lane into a gallery of incredible art that’s open 24/7, 365 days a year.

“The artists have created something phenomenal, and we couldn’t be more pleased with it. Not only does the art take inspiration from the area’s rich industrial heritage, it also hints at how nature is returning to the area.

“That’s so important for us, because we put a lot of effort into ensuring we create places that are built sustainably and help local wildlife thrive.”

Kelham is becoming increasingly vibrant as its reputation grows. More apartments are on the way, targeting young professionals and families as well as students, while The Milestone Group is planning a high-end food hall at the old Rutland Cutlery Works building, serving cuisines from across the world.

A special website – www.kurbart.com – has been set up to give more background to the Green Lane project, offering artist profile videos and pictures of works in progress. People are encouraged to post on social media using the hashtag #KurbArt.