Recently, Andy, Marianne and I had a meeting with one of our clients over in Hull.
It took place @thedock, specifically in the new C4Di building on the marina, a brand-new tech hub that forms the centrepiece of Hull’s digital renaissance. This inspiring space provides a much-needed home for co-working, tech incubation and corporate innovation in the city.
After the meeting, we headed out to sample some of the delights of the City of Culture, and during the course of a fantastic meal at the 1884 Dock Street Kitchen (highly recommended) our client asked if I’d seen Dead Bod yet. I admitted I hadn’t, and so he told me a story that went something like this:
The story of Dead Bod
Back in the 1960’s one Captain Len ‘Pongo’ Rood painted a piece of graffiti on the side of a corrugated iron shed at Hull’s Alexandra Dock. It depicted a dead bird lying on its back, claws in the air, and underneath it, the words ‘A DEAD BOD’ (seems bod is a Hull vernacular word for bird).
Over succeeding decades, this bit of graffiti became widely known as a waymarker, welcoming weary fishermen home and helping seafarers navigate the waters of the Humber Estuary.
So when it was announced that the sheds on which Dead Bod was painted were to be knocked down to make way for a new development, local folk swung into action to save this much-loved piece of public art.
The people of Hull, like many other places in Yorkshire, are a feisty and determined bunch and after a successful campaign Dead Bod was painstakingly removed and preserved for posterity.
After a final bottle of wine, we headed around the corner to Dead Bod’s new home. The excellent Humber Street Gallery.
Walking down Humber Street is a real treat. Once the old fruit market, the area is now a bustling, vibrant cultural sector packed with independent businesses. The industrial heritage has been wonderfully retained and is a genuine demonstration of how Hull’s City of Culture status is having a huge impact.
Flying in the face of art
Dead Bod greets you in all its glory as you enter the Humber Street Galley. Over a delicious pint of Atom (Hull’s newest brewery) we got talking about the piece. What struck me first was the medium. The fading letters painted in white brush strokes on corrugated iron, corroded from years of exposure to the salt and rain and wind whistling across Hull’s vast estuary.
There’s something about the piece that I instantly warmed to. Anyone who knows me will know I love graffiti, but this piece wasn’t like something by Replete or Phlegm, it was something that you might expect to see from David Shrigley.
I wondered what Captain Rood was thinking when he daubed Dead Bod on that shed. There’s no way he was trying to create a piece of public art. He didn’t do it for fame or money, or even the love of art. I expect he simply did it for a laugh (again, typical of the people of Hull).
Yet, by taking Dead Bod into their hearts, the local community have turned it into a piece of art, rather than the artist himself. Its relevance to the people of Hull, their dialect, their humour and their seafaring heritage are instantly recognisable in the piece. It’s part of the very fabric of the city. Because of that, there’s an honesty to it that you’ll never see in the Turner Prize.
After mulling over Dead Bod we all headed to a brilliant little Gin bar across the road called the Humber Street Distillery Co. and talked late into the evening.
Breathing new life into Bod
The next day, although a bit rough round the edges, I found my mind wandering back to Dead Bod. I imagined Captain Rood, who sadly passed away in 2006, to be a genuine, hard-working fella. I reckon if he was still with us he’d be very humble about the whole thing and would probably be having a laugh with his mates down the pub about his accidental art ending up in Hull’s newest and coolest gallery.
I was so taken with the piece and the story behind it that I decided to create my own tribute to it. So I created a little lino cut print of it this weekend and wrote this account of my very enjoyable encounter with Dead Bod. I’ve taken a bit of creative licence with the print, but I don’t think Pongo would mind.
In the spirit of Captain Rood’s original piece, and to congratulate the people of Hull for saving such an important piece of cultural history, I gave away the limited run of 100 prints for free.