Graffiti artist Ant Steel has always enjoyed using his art to bring joy to the community. And now, as an artist in residence at England's St. Albans Cathedral, he's able to interact with the public in a whole new way. Over the course of the year, Steel has been leading workshops and creating his own artwork for an exhibition inside the cathedral that will be held in November.
As Britain's oldest site of continuous Christian worship, St. Albans may seem like an unconventional place for an artist like Steel. But, as Steel points out, it's actually a perfect pairing. Graffiti dates back to ancient times—one only needs to visit Pompeii to find examples—so, in this sense, they aren't that far off from one another. In either case, Steel, who has a background in graphic design, knows just how powerful public art can be. And he's happy to share those lessons with others.
While taking immense inspiration from the classical environment of St. Albans, Steel is also spurred on by the workshops and events he holds as an artist in residence. Over the course of his time at St. Albans, he has guided local children and adults through the steps to produce their own pieces of graffiti art. It's something that has given him a new sense of purpose.
“There are many things I could be doing in my career, but honestly, nothing I’d rather be doing than this right now,” he tells My Modern Met. “The Cathedral staff have been so welcoming and excited for me to join them this year. I already feel deeply connected. Seeing students connect to the art in workshops is amazing.”
Steel understands the power of graffiti art and the responsibility that goes along with it. For him, taggers and those who spray over other people's art lack basic respect. That's why he's keen to teach a new generation of artists that creating public art also comes with a commitment to respect others and their space.
All of Steel's work will culminate in a November exhibition that will bring together the work painted on boards during the workshops, as well as Steel's own pieces. It's something that has never been seen before in the Cathedral, which has run an artist-in-residence program since 2018.
“The Cathedral has long been a patron of arts and is keen to support local artists,” shares Kevin Walton, the Cathedral’s canon chancellor. “Ant Steel’s fresh and engaging artistic offer and his dedicated approach to community work matched our vision.”
Long term, Steel's involvement is part of a broad plan for the Cathedral to become a place of community and culture within St. Albans, taking it beyond its purpose as a site of worship.