Art inspired change

Social media has a lot of negative connotations, but one brilliant positive it can bring is to share bold and ground-breaking art designed to change people’s attitudes. The artists create the statement and the internet broadcasts it

WORDS Natasha Shiels

Anybody living or working in Peterborough will have come across one of Nathan Murdoch’s bold graffiti designs, the oldest and most iconic of which being his Keith Flint tribute on a legal graffiti wall in Peterborough. But most recently Nath has been in the spotlight for creating the anti-racist tribute of two hands, again created in the town. We met with the street artist to find out how he transformed himself from a youngster in a graffiti crew to winning Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018.

Menace in society  
My graffiti journey started in around 1999 when I was in my first year at secondary school. I grew up in Eastfield, Peterborough and spent most of our time building dens in the local woods. One of my best friends at the time had this idea of starting a graffiti crew called MIS (Menace in Society). We started getting car paint and any markers we could acquire at that age to write around where we lived and in the school.

   Graffiti was more hidden back then, without social media and little internet, so we travelled the city on our pushbikes taking photos on a camera for inspiration. The only internet access we had was via the school IT suite and there was limited graffiti online. During this time, I collected possibly the largest pre-digital Peterborough graffiti archive in existence.  

The Keith Flint tribute  
I have been a HUGE Prodigy fan since I was young; I first discovered it via ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ album which, strangely, I used to listen to at my dad’s house in Russell Street, Peterborough. Down the road from his house was the first street art mural I had ever seen.

    The artwork within the album sleeve became unconsciously an inspiration in my journey. It’s an amazing piece and I guess the rebellious side within me wanted to be a part of that, even at such a young age.

    I had seen Prodigy many times in my life, the last time being December before Keith’s death at Alexandra Palace. My painting friend Tars, who had been with me to see the band before, texted me to say of Keith’s passing. I shed a few tears processing this news. Nearly two weeks after Keith’s death it was my eldest son’s birthday but, for reasons unknown, I took a huge mental health plummet and was struggling to cope with my emotions. I reached out to a couple of people but found it difficult to connect with people closer, I guess in fear of their perception of me. In this emotional state, I started painting Keith on the Thursday/Friday evening.

   I posted the finished piece on the Saturday evening online without much thought. Within 60 minutes it had over 600 shares and by Sunday morning it had over a thousand. The most important thing for me was that I did Keith and the band proud. I was in an unstable emotional state myself and I channelled that energy into producing a tribute which emotionally connected to millions of people. What I learnt from this was the most beautiful power of art; I had messages from people across the world about their connection to a wall I painted. The wall is still there today and is possibly one of Peterborough’s most photographed walls in recent years.

Diaspora and the anti-racism movement   
Diaspora contacted me as a local artist to do a piece about anti-racism. I could do whatever I wanted as long as it was relevant. I know and have experienced some forms of racism as a white man, but I think more than anything what graffiti culture has taught me, regardless of background, colour, wealth etc, is that we come together through a shared interest.

   When I woke up one morning read an email from a lady in Minnesota wanting to use my painting as a profile picture, was it surprising? I couldn’t believe it! A lady from 100s of miles away found a picture I painted and wanted to use it to help promote a positive message in her city which was in unrest due to the George Floyd incident.

Growing a business  
I started Street Arts Hire in 2015 as a self-employed brand whilst I was working full time as a Health and Safety Manager (people were later surprised to find out my secret!). After working for three years building the brand, I left full-time employment in July 2018 and changed the business to a limited company in the April. In 2017 we won Service of the Year and in 2018 I won Entrepreneur of the Year at the Peterborough Small Business Awards. This year I am again a finalist, this time in the Business Man of the Year category.

   Street Arts Hire are a collective of street artists across art, music and dance. We offer all forms of street art for hire, creating bespoke solutions to a client’s needs. It had originally started as a music/street art event in Peterborough, but being young and lacking maturity, it wasn’t developed until later years.

   We’ve worked on projects from bedroom walls to multi-million pound organisations at the moment. We have a huge variance in our clientele and have been fortunate to work with names like Wickes, Ikea, BMW, Twitter, English Football League and Virgin Health.

The War memorial at the Straw Bear Pub   
My grandma was in WWII and had a keen interest in war and memories from that period. She passed a few years ago but I spent many hours with my grandma watching war movies. Painting any war memorial makes me think of her and how proud she would be. Overall, it’s a wonderful thing to do and give something back to those who risked and gave their lives for us to have a better life. We are forever in their debt.

Nathan is selling limited edition signed prints of his arts against racism pieces. For further information on these or any of the team’s other works, please visit www.streetartshire.co.uk or follow Street Arts for Hire on Facebook or Instagram. You can also find details on how to commission a piece of work.

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