GLASGOW – The Rebel Bear has earned himself the nickname of the Scottish Banksy with his political street art and his bid to remain anonymous.
His latest foray in the streets of Glasgow has been to pay tribute to the health workers fighting COVID-19.
As she does every morning, Carol Wright went to her restaurant Ubiquitous Chip in the West End of Glasgow, a picturesque and vibrant district of cobbled streets. But something had changed that day.
“When I arrived, one of our staff members, who came very early in the morning to open up, told me that someone had done a graffiti on the wall.
“When I saw it, I knew it was not graffiti, because I had already seen some of his work earlier in the West End and I’m delighted. I hope it stays there forever,” Wright tells EFE.
A monochrome image of a doctor sporting a mask and light blue gloves making a heart-shape with her hands now decorated the wall of the premises.
The owner of the whiskey bar, which has since been remodeled into a food store, tends to customers who, despite the heavy rain, have come to collect boxes of fruit and vegetables.
She says the artwork has drawn many people who have come to take pictures.
Her shop is the only open one for several streets, which she has managed by reinventing her business.
“We are working out what we can be doing and what we should be doing, but we are kind of getting there. This was originally a whisky bar and we have turned it into a shop for click and collect and home deliveries. We do what we can, keep going and stay open,” she says.
The Rebel Bear’s latest work was shared on the artist’s Instagram page a few days ago.
“Dedicated to all the front-line medical workers,” the caption to the work read.
In the same post, the street artist announced that 20% of profits on sales would be donated to the National Health Service and Doctors without Borders. Proceeds have so far reached 620 pounds according to the artist.
The work of this mysterious artist, whose identity on social media takes the form of a pink bear, spans politics, economy, human interactions and the social alienation the Internet and new technologies have generated.
A Brexit canvas depicting former British Prime Minister Theresa May blindfolded and being pulled along by a dog wrapped in the United Kingdom flag can be purchased for around €360.
A print of her successor Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un portrayed as giant babies is selling for around €78.
Also in the West End, a hip neighborhood which, until very recently, was buzzing with people gathering at the local bars, is another of The Bear’s works about the coronavirus pandemic.
But this piece has sparked some controversy because it is in the residential area of the neighborhood, surrounded by beautiful stone houses with gardens.
The mural features a man and woman kissing passionately with their face masks rolled under their chins.
When it first appeared a caption under the artwork read: “A time will come when the masks can be pulled down, the borders will reopen and connections can be remade – hopefully stronger than ever.”
In recent days, someone has written the word “Shit” on the drawing and has scratched the couple’s face and the author’s signature.
One of the residents of the block, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells EFE he likes the artwork but he thinks it is wrong the artist chose the wall of a private residence.
“I think the message of hope is nice, but this is a quiet residential neighborhood, and for a couple of months, when the drawing first appeared, there have been many graffiti,” he says.
A fine rain continues to dampen central Glasgow.
Empty buses rumble along the deserted roads with shuttered shops, a result of Scotland’s strict lockdown rules which are still in place.
On Bath Street, on the facade of what was once the BHS department store, founded in the 1920S but which went into liquidation in 2016, another The Rebel Bear COVID-19-themed artworks has popped up.
Lockdown features a young man in black and white trying to walk with a large green coronavirus particle chained to his right foot.
Beside the image someone has written Capitalism Sucks in blue chalk.
The aesthetic and content of The Bear’s artwork are inevitably compared with street art superstar Banksy something that doesn’t seem to irk the Glasgow-based artist.
“I feel like I am on my own path,” he said in a recent interview with the BBC.
“Saying that, I still feel privileged to be labelled as the ‘Scottish Banksy’,’” he added.
He acknowledged that other street artists such as Parisian Blek le Ra and Banksy have been a great influence.
“My main motivation is to make people think and hopefully raise a smile,” The Rebel Bear said.