(Update: It's not a Banksy as far as we know: it's the work of the Malvern-based We Love Art collective. But hey we still love it! Thanks from Ledbury)
John Nash who owns the wall was visited yesterday by an art critic up from Oxford who believes the artwork may be the genuine article. If that’s true, he could be sitting on an asset worth millions. It’s a work that is extraordinarily alive, a very accomplished piece of street art, whoever painted it.
The one certain thing is that the image of local-born poet John Masefield is already lighting up that famously gloomy Ledbury passageway. A steady stream of visitors are eagerly making the pilgrimage to contemplate the haunting figure, captured reading a red book from which the opening line of his Sea Fever drifts out like a line of music, I must down to the sea again…
The delighted public reaction is no surprise. Public art has a transformative effect on people and places.
Writing for The Guardian Tim Smedley observes the way that public art contributes to well-being and people’s sense of belonging:
‘An ongoing study by Durham University (yet to be published) using the Angel of the North as a case study has found that 72% of local residents say the Angel of the North makes them feel good whenever they see it, and it makes 64% proud of Gateshead.
Alex Coulter, director of the arts advocacy organisation Arts & Health South West believes that: "Particularly when you look at smaller communities or communities within larger cities, [public art] can have a very powerful impact on people's sense of identity and locality. A lot of sculptures are related to the local history in some way, and I think they can give people a connection to their place and a sense of continuity."
Surely we need more art, festivals and performances, formal and random in Ledbury, lots of it, everywhere. The town is an unfulfilled cultural capital. We may be small, but we’re bursting with artists, writers, musicians and poets, a magnet for talented, creative souls. And yet… There is that nagging feeling that when it comes to art and culture, we are very good at hiding our genius, missing our creative tricks. The sports people are excellent at staking their claim for new and better facilities – and good on them. But where are the organised groups hammering on the Town Council’s door calling for an arts centre, cultural festivals, rehearsal rooms and workshops, iconic pieces of public art? Now is the time to make your voices heard with the Neighbourhood Plan, Ledbury’s blueprint for spaces and places until 2031.
Just maybe the new artwork is a subtle reference to Ledbury’s diffidence in the art department. Lurking in the shadows, there he is, one of the great voices of English lyric poetry and our most important son, reminding us ever so gently to do the things that are important, to live life in the moment, to feel the pull of the ‘vagrant gypsy life’. Sea Fever is an ode to freedom and self-fulfillment. Let’s now take our cue and live Masefield’s dream in every corner of Ledbury.