The Leicester street artist Wing Lo says he never had a problem with heights, but swinging from the side of a building in a cradle more than 80 meters in the air to create one of the world’s tallest artworks pushed him to the limits.
“When I was on the cradle, at times I just wanted to get off it because it’s really scary. But looking back now, I’m sad it has finished,” he said. “We just wanted to make the people of Leicester proud, and I think so far we’ve done that.”
Lo was part of a team of artists who recently finished Europe’s tallest piece of street art, rising 82 meters (269ft) up the side of St George’s tower, known as the Blue tower, in Leicester.
It is almost double the height of the UK’s previous tallest piece of street art, Athena Rising in Leeds, which was 46.8 meters (153ft) tall, and it is now the fourth largest piece of street art in the world, beaten only by two artworks in Calgary, Canada, and one in Karachi, Pakistan.
“But it’s the only one of all those record-breakers that is painted and designed by local artists,” said Izzy Hoskins, a co-director of the Leicester arts company Graffwerk, which produced the piece in collaboration with BID Leicester. “We just felt like if we didn’t have local artists with the ability to paint it, and we didn’t celebrate them, then what was the point?”
Graffwerk specialises in large-scale street murals, and it was about three years ago that its artists decided they wanted to break a record. “We looked into what was the tallest building in Leicester that had a paintable surface, and that was St George’s tower,” said Hoskins.
The piece is a homage to the east Midlands city. It features a fox, in reference to the city’s football club, a tiger for the local rugby team, an astronaut to represent the National Space Centre, and a double helix as the University of Leicester pioneered DNA fingerprinting.
“It’s such a statement for Leicester and it’s such a statement for the UK as well,” said Hoskins, after the finishing touches were made on Saturday. “You can see it from so many miles away; in one part of the city you can see it four miles away.”
Lo worked alongside the local artists Richard Peacock and Leigh Drummond, with assistance from Ben Edwards and Kiene Tuckley, to bring the vision to life over five weeks. They took it in turns to paint from a cradle roughly the size of a bench hanging down the side of the block.
“You can’t stand back and look because you’d have to come all the way down and you would just lose so much time,” he said. “So sometimes you’re just painting not knowing whether it’s going to work or not. Some things we nailed first try, other things we had to go back and alter, there was a bit of back and forth.”
Already people have been traveling to the city to take photographs, and the team behind it hope it will become a Leicester landmark.
“We’ve got this immense feeling of pride when we stand back and see what’s been achieved,” Hoskins said. “We are a creative country, we do have creative cities, and we have some incredible artists. And it’s great to put them on that platform and showcase what’s possible.”
Calgary tower, Canada
At 95 meters (312ft) tall, a mural on the side of Calgary tower in Canada holds the title of the world’s tallest street art. The abstract piece was created this year by the German artist Mirko Reisser, known as DAIM, and took more than 500 cans of spray paint to complete. It was created as part of a project to turn a brutalist concrete area of the city into an open-air urban art gallery.
Statue of Unity, India
Completed in 2018, the Statue of Unity in India now holds the title of the world’s tallest statue, standing 182 meters (597ft) tall. It depicts the Indian statesman and independence activist Vallabhbhai Patel and is twice the size of New York’s Statue of Liberty. Costing an estimated 29.8bn rupees (£314m), it was under construction for four years and has lifts that can transport up to 15,000 tourists a day to a viewing gallery about 152 meters high.
Arc Majeur, Belgium
As opposed to a historical monument, Bernar Venet’s Arc Majeur, a 200-tonne steel sculpture around a motorway in Belgium, is the tallest purely artistic sculpture in the world. Its location, on either side of the E411 between the cities of Namur and Luxembourg, was chosen so the driver’s view would not be encumbered by lamp-posts. It is formed of two arcs, 28 meters and 60 meters in height, which emerge from the ground on either side of the road.