The print feature in our most recent issue, Vol.27, on graffiti troupe Dudug contains a misprint. We are re-publishing the full feature online. Our apologies to Dudug and writer Nastia Voynovskaya.
by Nastia Voynovskaya
Photos by Annar50 unless marked otherwise
Enormous and mysterious, the cruise liner the Duke of Lancaster has been beached in Llanerch-y-Mor on the northern coast of Wales for decades. Once a vessel filled with the extravagant dreams of its owners, the ship was never truly utilized to its full potential. In the 1950s, it served as a passenger cruise ship for tours around the Scottish Isles and Scandinavia and is rumored to have been built for the Royal Family’s escape plan in case of a nuclear attack during World War II. Later, the Duke was re-opened as a retail and leisure complex called the “Fun Ship,” complete with night clubs and restaurants in the early ‘80s. Plans for the Fun Ship never fully materialized and the Duke of Lancaster remained stationary— an overbearing monument to excess, empire and splendor left to disintegrate along with the ideas it once represented.
The gigantic ship’s fate took an unexpected turn after around thirty years of disuse. An art collective called DuDug—whose members’ identities are as mysterious as the true origin of the ship—formed around repurposing the Duke of Lancaster into a large-scale urban art installation dubbed The Black Duke. Their attitude was punk rock and their philosophy was simple: “Your ship looked like shit, so we painted it!” DuDug enlisted a group of local and international street and graffiti artists—including Lora Zombie, FinDAC, KIWIE, FatHeat, Cream Soda Crew, Andy Mercer, Bungle, MrZero, GOIN, Sweet Toof and Si Clark—to cover the ship with murals, hoping to open it up to the public as a tourist attraction in the quiet Welsh waterfront.
“The use of the ship isn’t as unlikely as you think. I had seen the ship whilst traveling by train to Dublin and it immediately caught my imagination, there are so many angles and profiles an artist could use, together with different colors, textures and surfaces,” said Maurice Blunt, one of the project’s facilitators. “If you couple this to the fact the sun comes directly over the ship from port to starboard each day this adds to the magic and character of the both the ship and ultimately the art by casting regularly shifting shadows or light on the art.”
Obtaining the necessary permission to convert the Duke of Lancaster into The Black Duke was no easy task. After grappling with local authorities (who proved to be unreceptive, to say the least) over safety concerns and potential environmental hazards, the DuDug team trudged through the mire of historical drama and government corruption and established an agreement with the ship’s owners. They were able to proceed with painting in the fall of 2012.
KIWIE was the first artist selected. “His signature character is easily recognizable so we knew the impact would be instantly massive,” Maurice commented. He was followed by the Cream Soda Crew, who are local arts activists and community organizers. “The rest of the artists sort of chose themselves, all are extremely well known in the UK and European urban art world, are very much sought after for other events such as UpFest, and all had work featured in many of the arts blogs (which were starting to feature DuDug),” she went on. “We knew once these guys saw the ship and understood the history, they would be more than happy to come to the back-of-beyond to paint her.”
The Black Duke’s aesthetic scope touches upon different styles currently at play in the street art world. FinDAC’s gracefully painted geisha gazes fearlessly into the distance at the front of the ship, flanked on both sides by KIWIE’s self- satisfied bears flashing toothy grins. Bungle’s photorealistic portrayal of a white collar criminal in a ski mask, MrZero’s pig in police gear and GOIN’s anthropomorphic chimpanzees in business suits add a pronounced streak of political satire—a clear spelling-out of DuDug’s anti-authoritarian spirit. Aficionados of old school graffiti, Cream Soda Crew blasted the ship with brightly colored, wild-style lettering. Most of the murals are visible from the coastal path, The Black Duke gleaming on the horizon with an explosion of shapes and colors.
Each artist approached the project with energy and momentum given this rare opportunity to leave her or his imprint on a historical relic. The murals were completed one at a time until November, when DuDug decided to invite multiple artists to paint simultaneously. FinDAC, MrZero, GOIN and FatHeat worked long, chaotic days together, arriving at the ship at 9 a.m. and sometimes not leaving until 2:30 the next morning, as all projection work needed to be done at night.
DuDug hope to eventually cover the entire ship with as many as twenty murals and establish it as a permanent open-art urban art gallery and a space for community arts projects. But even though street art is beginning to become more institutionalized in other European countries and other cities in the UK, the local government of Llanerch-y-Mor seems to have made its decision to stand against the project without considering its potential to benefit the region creatively and economically, according to Maurice. The ship’s owners, however, have been supportive.
“Even with all the historical disputes with the local authorities which have caused previous projects at the site to never really take off, the owners still want nothing more than to see new life breathed into The Black Duke of Lancaster,” Maurice explained. “We would love to be in an area where this sort of project is supported by the authorities, such as UpFest in Bristol and Sea, Sand and Spray in Blackpool.”
Still, DuDug continue to fight to make their ambitions a reality, and as more high-profile artists get on board, this anachronistic vessel has a chance to transform the quiet coast of northern Wales into an international contemporary art destination. “At the end of the day, urban art is for everyone and no one can deny the skill and expertise the artists have brought to the ship,” said Maurice assuredly. “She will become a masterpiece in her own right.”
-by Nastia Voynovskaya