NEWCASTLE’S historic Victoria Tunnel is to host its first art exhibition – a below-streets opportunity for street artists from around the world.
Specially-commissioned work by a dozen leading artists will go on show on June 12 , turning the tunnel beneath the city into a gallery for 12 hours only.
Throughout its 170-year history, the old colliery waggonway has been used by pit employees, transport workers, people sheltering from wartime bombing and, more recently, curious tourists. But this latest venture is a first.
The unique project, Xll: Into the Dark, is being run by Unit 44 galley in Hoults Yard, Walker. It will allow groups of 12 people at a time below ground to see the new artworks on show.
Each artist has been commissioned to create a work for the space. They include Shepard Fairey, the graphic designer who bagged the international spotlight with his “Hope” print of Obama during the US presidential election campaign, and German Hendrik Beikirch, known for huge spray-painted murals.
Local talent gets a look in too, with Hush, from Newcastle, drawing upon his local family history, and self-styled “painter lady” Candice Tripp, who has made the city her home for the past seven years.
The South African-born artist, known for her dark oil and ink visions of childhood fairytales, says: “When I paint I aim for a creeping sense of eerie gloom, so this is a rare occasion where I know that the venue’s subterranean darkness will be on my side and at my disposal – without it being manufactured or transitory.”
The 1842 Victoria Tunnel, which runs from beneath the Town Moor to the Tyne, was initially used to transport coal to the river. It was converted into an air-raid shelter during the Second World War.
Following a programme of repairs, it has seen a renewed flurry of interest with its Late Shows and Heritage Open Days openings annual sell-outs.
The same level of interest is expected with this one-off opportunity involving a trip “into the dark” to see contemporary art against a historic backdrop.
It is, says gallery and project curator Danny Hughes, “the most ambitious international project we have set our sights on”.
Other artists up for the challenge are prolific contemporary urban artist D*Face; Pedro Matos from Portugal, who’s billed as a humanitarian artistic champion; South Africa’s Faith 47, whose brand of raw, intimate graffiti art is instantly recognisable; and two Australian street artists, Meggs and Stormie Mills. Making up the 12 are painter Will Barras, Eelus, and Word To Mother.
Candice added: “It’s an exciting challenge to be able to produce something that will work with the tunnel, as opposed to just existing within it.
“I had been living in Newcastle for four years before I found out that the Victoria Tunnel existed. I’m glad I waited, although I can’t say why I did!”