An emerging street art scene is bringing a fresh, colourful edge to Lincoln’s urban landscapes. In the neighbourhoods surrounding the city centre, you can now find astonishing murals painted on the side of buildings and on bridge underpasses. Here, we take a closer look at some of the most striking examples of street art in Lincoln and where you can find them.
The talented artists behind three stunning murals around the city shared insights with us about the inspiration and meaning behind their works, and how the projects came about.
The emergence of street art in Lincoln
Lincoln has creative roots that stretch back many centuries. Art, in one form or another, has played an important role in the city’s development since its Roman origins and throughout its thriving medieval days.
Until modern times, art in Lincoln has been channelled mostly in traditional formats. We have an array of brilliant art galleries around the city, where you can see the works of local talent as well as famous artists who have visited and painted the city over the years, such as JMW Turner and LS Lowry.
Recently, the art scene has begun to diversify and take on a new identity. One example of this is the Lincoln Imp Trail. This now-annual initiative sees colourful sculptures dispersed across the city depicting one of Lincoln’s iconic images, blending old legends with new ideas.
The emergence of street art has brought an exciting fresh dimension to this scene. Having grown up nearby, in a traditional English old market town, giant murals are not something I ever expected to see around Lincoln’s backstreets. But now, they are springing up in the unlikeliest of places and becoming a much more common sight.
Much of this is thanks to local initiatives that are driving forward new artistic ideas and promoting creativity in the city. For example, the Sincil Bank Art Project has facilitated the introduction of street art murals to an under-appreciated area of Lincoln.
Lincoln BIG, an organisation that aims to improve the experience for visitors and locals, has spearheaded a range of initiatives to refresh and enliven the city centre. This includes the Lincoln Imp Trail and various street art commissions.
Street art in Lincoln: stories behind three murals
Sir Isaac Newton mural by Zabou (Kirkby Street)
The Sincil Bank area of Lincoln is known for being home to the city’s football stadium, LNER Stadium. Its reputation has deteriorated over the years, and a new community initiative has sought to do something about that – through street art.
A giant mural by French street artist Zabou on the junction of Kirkby Street and Sincil Bank was the first output of the Sincil Bank Art Project, completed in 2021. Known officially as ‘Project 001’, it makes imaginative use of the building’s structure and features, depicting Lincolnshire-born Sir Isaac Newton staring through a prism.
Zabou keeps her identity hidden, which has drawn comparisons with the legendary Banksy. The project organisers had seen her work near Nottingham, and picked her out for this flagship work.
“I liked the project and I was on board straight away to come and paint around the Sincil Bank area,” Zabou tells us. “It was a great experience, I met a lot of local residents, and I hope the mural can brighten their day when they see it.
“I often get inspiration from the surroundings of where I’m painting,” she continues. “For this mural, both the history and architecture of the building shaped my design.”
Zabou chose Sir Isaac Newton as the subject of the painting after researching about the area. “I really liked the idea of painting an inspiring local figure, and paying tribute to his work by creating a modern portrait of him.
“I was looking for a way to utilise the chimney and I thought: why not turn it into a prism? It refers to Newton’s experiments around the spectrum of light, which he did using prisms with sunlight.”
Zabou was able to spend some time exploring Lincoln while she was working on the mural. “I had the chance to be able to visit the city centre afterwards, and also to walk around the South Commons. I especially remember the steep street leading to the castle and cathedral! And the panorama from the top was great.”
See our guide to Steep Hill Lincoln.
Lincoln Star mural by Sophie Mess (Trollope Street)
After completing her work on Kirkby Street, Zabou personally recommended another artist to create the second mural of the Sincil Bank Art Project. That artist was Sophie Mess.
Sophie was chosen to create a mural on a wall that was donated to the project by a resident on Trollope Street. Her creative brief was simply that the piece should have a connection with Lincoln.
“As my style is very floral and botanical based, I did a lot of research on local flowers and found that the clematis is also known as the ‘Lincoln Star’,” she explains. “This is because it was bred in the 1950s by the plant breeder Walter Pennell of Pennells nurseries, who was from Lincoln and a pioneer in the development of garden centres!
I thought this was a pretty cool story, and loved the name ‘Lincoln Star’, so this was the inspiration for this piece.”
Sophie’s colourful representation of the flower is interlaced with the message ‘shine bright’, bringing an uplifting feel to this suburban streetscape, even on grey and cloudy days.
Sophie spent five days in the area working on the mural. “I have fond memories of Sincil Bank,” she recalls. “There were two little girls who lived in the street where I was painting, and they would often stop by for chats amongst playing. At one point I think they even sat on the pavement drawing while I painted the wall! Cute.”
Mute swan mural by Curtis Hylton (Portland Street)
The latest creation of the Sincil Bank Art Project is perhaps the most prominent to date, a giant mural of a mute swan at the east end of Portland Street.
This impressive swan is the work of Curtis Hylton, a muralist based in Reading who specialises in flora and fauna.
Mute swans have been native to Lincoln for many centuries, and an important symbol of the city. Their significance dates back to St Hugh of Lincoln – also the patron saint of swans – who rebuilt Lincoln Cathedral after it was damaged by an earthquake in the 12th century.
The Sincil Bank Art Project mural series will be collected into an art trail, with more additions expected over the years to come.
William IV mural by James Mayle (passage under Wigford Way)
Through the underpass beneath Wigford Way, a short walkway leading between the Brayford Waterfront and Lincoln High Street, the path is illustrated along one wall with a sprawling mural that pays homage to Lincoln’s maritime history.
James Mayle, an artist from nearby Balderton and owner of the creative studio IMAGESKOOL, was awarded a grant to create the mural after successfully pitching the idea. “Lincoln BIG were asking for people to submit ideas for artworks in the city centre to add some brightness and interest,” he explains.
“The proposal had to involve a local business to work alongside. I have done plenty of work in the city before and had already discussed painting in this area, so we included this as part of our proposal.”
James worked with the Royal William IV public house on the project, which is located right next to the mural location. “We worked with the help of the pub and their staff. Because of this we decided to use imagery from William IV’s naval career as inspiration for the artwork.”
The Royal William IV overlooks the Brayford, England’s oldest inland harbour – another source of inspiration for the maritime theme. King William IV is at the centre of the mural, surrounded by characters in traditional seafaring dress of the time.
Temporary street art in Lincoln
The creative face of Lincoln is often changing, as temporary and pop-up displays come and go. The railway station, for instance, was brought to life recently with six pieces of artwork celebrating the city’s history.
In another example, James and the team at IMAGESKOOL created a temporary mural to enliven an unoccupied shop on Lincoln High Street. “For this we were approaced by Lincoln BIG as we’d worked with them before,” James says. “They wanted to commission us to paint something to brighten up the High Street and improve the boarded-up shop ready for the festive season.”
The mural depicts the mischievous character of the Lincoln Imp in bright colour. “The concept is constructed to have to look of stained glass, giving us the perfect backdrop to place the cheeky imp and the legend of him smashing windows in the cathedral.”
Read more about the legend of the Lincoln Imp in our complete visitors’ guide to Lincoln Cathedral.
Do you know about any more examples of street art in Lincoln? We’ll be happy to add new pieces to this article – please get in touch and let us know about it.
Find ideas for activities in the city in our rundown of things to do in Lincoln.