Up Close Legendary Hitchin artist Mr Meana: Street Art is like a modern-day statue – it’s a sign of respect

Hitchin Nub News aims to support our community, promoting shops, businesses, charities, clubs and sports groups.

We showcase some of these businesses, organisations and interesting individuals from our area displaying creativity and innovation in our regular feature called ‘Up Close’.

This week we are featuring the legendary Mark Meana – aka Mr Meana, a brilliant street artist from Hitchin whose work has gone global.

Mr Meana is currently creating an iconic mural in Hitchin Market – why not go and see it for yourself.

In the meantime, read on for what an outstanding Hitchin creative told us after we visited him at work in Hitchin town centre.

 

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Iconic Street Art from Mr Meana with the incredible mural in Hitchin market that he is currently working on. CREDIT: Hitchin Nub News

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Up Close: Legendary Hitchin artist Mr Meana says Street Art is like a modern-day statue – it’s a sign of reverence and respect

Mr Meana: Great to see you Layth. This is something to brighten up the town in discussion with Hitchin BID and the local council about trying to get some art into the town. We decided we would do a wall and see what happens.

Hitchin Nub News: There’s been plenty of comment of social media already hasn’t there… 

Mr Meana: [Smiles] To be honest opinions are opinions and everybody’s got their own opinions. Not everything is going to be everybody’s cup of tea. As long as it’s given in a respectful way opinions are always taken on board. I’ll always receive them with respect as well. 

Saying that everyone has been so positive about what I’ve done so far. So many people have stopped to talk and tell me how much they love what I’m doing, how and why they like it and their favourite parts. And how I manage to do the portraits with the spray cans. 

[In the course of our interview Nub News lost count of the number of Hitchin residents, young and old who stopped to congratulate Mr Meana on his artwork in the market, including two lovely pensioners who said they could ‘stare at it all day.’]

I even had a guy who at first told me he didn’t like it – but after we spoke respectfully about it after he came and had a look rather than simply reading other people’s comments, he actually changed his mind and told me he had changed his mind, bless him. He said to me: ‘I like it.’  It takes a strong man to admit he was just on a bandwagon and actually change his mind.

But listen, like I say it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – but I believe there will be far more people who will like what we’re doing than not like it. 

Mr Meana: Street art is the most sought-after art in the world at the moment. It brings colour, it brings personality, it brings vibrancy. It doesn’t even to be a bright, colourful piece, it could be a piece on the side of a wall in terms of the texture it brings the town. It’s a backdrop, it can’t be anything but positive. 

For me it’s something that I got into years and years ago. I got into the ‘wrong way’ shall we say. I was a very angry young man when I was younger, and it was my way of hitting out at society. I suppose you could class me as a vandal in those days. And I could cause damage. We classed it as art – they classed it as damage.

But, now, as an adult, I’m using what I’ve learned and trying to incorporate that in what I do for a living and create a bit of vibrancy and bring a bit of character to blank walls that are there and doing nothing. So, the way I’m looking at it is that I like to give back to society and areas that I have a special interest in – being a local lad – so this is what I want to do for town. 

HNN: It’s a powerful form of expression too isn’t it?

Mr Meana: Yes, definitely. Without getting too deep about it, it is also art therapy. I suffer from PTSD and on my first residential course for my treatment they suggested art therapy and I kind of suggested that I could paint a bit – and we all said ‘let’s find out’. And that’s how it started – and now I literally get flown all over the world to do what I do. 

I feel you’ve got to keep your soul as full as your wallet which is why I’m giving back to Hitchin with projects like this. It’s an amazing chance to be able to do what I’m doing here in the market. I’ve not charged a penny for this. This is my gift to the town. I know that some may not like it even if some will, but I feel the majority will – and the reaction I’m getting from people has been overwhelmingly positive. 

I’ve barely painted today as I’ve been stopping to talk to people who are interested in what I’m doing. It’s been lovely. I’ve met so many people – I live in Hitchin – but I’ve never encountered before. It’s just been an amazing experience from start to finish. 

HNN: You’re far too modest to talk about it but in terms of being flown around the world are you allowed to say who has been your clients…? 

Mr Meana: A lot of stuff I’ve done I’ve had to sign NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) but it would be fair to say plenty of well-known actors. I’ve worked everywhere from royal palaces to football stadiums. I’ve got art on in many places. Even examples like Steven Gerrard’s kid’s bedroom. Monaco, Las Vegas, Hollywood, been all over doing this. It’s been crazy working with a lot of top people. 

I’ve even done Tellytubbies stuff. You go to LA and the gangster capital of the world and you’re painting Tellytubbies. Try explaining that at customs…this has given me some incredible experiences and I’m humbled to have met so many amazing people. 

Since getting into art full time my world has since opened up. I’ve met so many people you’d never., ever normally have had a chance of meeting. It’s got to the point that one of the companies I work for has got a podcast coming out on Talksport.

The likes of Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Leah Williamson. Anyone you can think of who we’ve painted is jumping on. John Barnes, you name it. They’re all there and talking to them to ask how they feel to be painted and immortalised on the side of a building for example. 

Street Art is like a modern-day statue. It’s a sign of respect and reverence. If you paint someone on the side of a huge wall, in my eyes it’s even better than a statue. 

And let’s face it, in my eyes, it’s even better than certain statutes – Ronaldo’s springs to mind. It’s also what it can mean for the people you’re painting too. 

If people just take a bit of time to understand [street art] and take a proper look it can be extremely rewarding – rather than just seeing it as a load of colour. 

If you look at what I’m doing here [in Hitchin Market] it’s about representing unity if you look at the people I’m portraying while the colours shine through. 

Whoever, they are, whatever it is, wherever it is, that community always shines through. It’s different colours, it’s different creeds, it’s different lifestyles – but they all blend into each other, they all merge into each other to become one. And that’s what runs through everything. 

HNN: In terms of this particular piece of street art that you’re currently creating, talk us through some of the familiar faces and characters that will be well-known to people that live here

Mr Meana: Yes, so you’ve got Alan Myatt [Hitchin’s much-missed long-time town crier]. Funnily enough I used to work the door at Wetherspoons [in Sun Street] and I used to see old Alan totter around at closing! I saw him wobble out of there a few times – so if you paint him on the wall then it’s quite an enjoyable thing to do to commemorate such a wonderful character.  

You’ve also got the Queen Mother [who was born in nearby Bowes Lion House]. You’ve got the Canary that represents Hitchin Town FC. You’ve also got a hedgehog for Hitchin Rugby Club. That’s going up. There’s a woman in the middle just having a look around then you’ve got the old cab rank to represent back in the day when there were horses and carts in the market square. There’s a girl picking lavender and then of course you’ve got [St Mary’s] church at the end – which is obviously one of the most iconic views of Hitchin.

So far, it’s taken about a day and a half, and I’ve got a day and half to go. I’ll be doing a bit of marking up tonight and then will aim to finish it all off tomorrow [Wednesday, August 9]. 

HNN: I love what I do – you can just see how much you absolutely love what you do – is that a fair assessment of what you do?

Mr Meana: Of course, of course. Even if you take away all the hype, the fact I get to paint every single day of my life, that means everything to me. The fact that I get to do what I love every single day, without fail – never mind going all over the world to do it – the fact I can do what I love every day is what it’s all about.

It might look good on your CV and look great in your mum’s scrapbook but for me, the fact you get to do what you love to do is what it’s all about. It’s an absolutely blessed position to be. I would say to anybody, if you love something enough and you enjoy doing it – then please, do it every day.

Because if you do it every day, the thing is, even by accident you become better and better and better at it. And you will eventually get to the point where someone will pay you to do what you want to do.  

And once you get that you’ll never work a day in your life. 

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