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  • Elliott Johnson

Transcripts: Midas Frames

‘I just like the turning the world into a massive gallery. I also like breaking the law.’

All over the city, gold picture frames have been appearing on walls. Some are positioned over tags and surreal scribblings, some left on blank bricks. This anonymous artist, who goes by Midas Frames when posting pictures of their exploits on social media, is drawing our attention to the gutters, air vents, and pavement artworks of Norwich, one frame at a time.

I organise an interview through a contact of a friend of a friend. I'm warned that Midas will insist on strict anonymity. I arrive at the agreed location at 7am, as arranged, armed with coffee and a Dictaphone. It's a brambled compound off the northern end of Oak Street, outside of the city centre: the ruins of a concrete shed, colonised by wilted buddleia, surrounded by scrapyards and rubble.


A strange voice responds from inside the collapsing bunker. 'Is that Elliott?'

'Um... yeah.'

'I'm in here.'

I approach the bunker warily, wondering a) if I am about to get mugged, and b) if not, what Midas Frames will look like. The answer is: a) no, and b) Midas Frames isn't here.

It's one of those two-way radios, propped up on a breezeblock. The voice on the other end has been scrambled somehow, the pitch slightly altered. I can't tell Midas's gender, or even an accent, really. I press record and begin the interview.

Was there an initial piece that inspired you to begin the work of framing?

Not particularly, it was actually after another one of those conversations where someone was trying to ‘educate’ me on the difference between ‘real art’ and ‘street art’ and how real art is more worthy of critical acclaim…

Conceptually, I don’t see a huge difference myself. In many ways street art is more pure as it’s less about monetary value. I’m not in any way saying that my view on this is unique or new, but framing the works that I see, on my walk to work, makes people question the cultural value of street art. Also, I don’t just frame street art. Sometimes it’s just something odd. Like a crack or a plant growing out of the wall. This is even more fascinating to me. What makes a tag more arty than a no entry sign or a different coloured brick? Maybe I’m just a pretentious prick! Haha

I definitely agree - one of the things I’ve been trying to do with Norwich Remapped is to blur the line between ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ graffiti. The council putting up a sign about the Right of Way Act 1932 could be seen as graffiti, or an advert could be corporate graffiti. It does make me quite angry to see the street art like the Pottergate underpass or the City of Stories murals get put on a pedestal while other street art gets scrubbed off.

Or the graffiti in the Cathedral, for instance, which is now of historical value because of what it tells us about the lives of people who lived here hundreds of years ago.

I tell you what though, that graffiti into the stones in the cathedral is a thing of beauty. I like your idea of blurring the lines.

My personal favourite is the priest’s curse! So you’ve put up some frames on blank spots of wall, is the idea that people will be inspired to fill them?

Yeah, that’s part of the idea. I think there are almost 50/50. Maybe I put them around something slightly more than I leave blank.

And has anyone filled one in yet?

Yeah, quite a few have been filled. Dino tiles (they’ve filled a few, but I’ve also framed a few), “Wot no Banksy?”, posters, “Free Nick.” All of these ones are on this feed [@midas_frames on Instagram]. Unfortunately there are about 25 that I never photographed and I’ve either forgotten where they are or they have been removed.

With the dino tiles I love that it’s an anonymous collaboration, where neither of you have actually met each other, you’ve only seen the other’s work and responded to it.

Do the council remove a lot of your frames? Without revealing too much, I assume you do most of your work under cover of darkness, and I also assume you haven’t gotten caught yet?

I do always go out at dusk. You’d be surprised how little people care, they occasionally look and then they just carry on.

Whenever someone does see what I do, I take a few unusual directions, where cameras are less of an issue, before I put another one up. I haven’t been caught yet, but I have been doing stuff like this for a lot of years and feel pretty comfortable with my escape routes.

In your experience is the street art scene in Norwich, or the way people react to it, different to other places?

Not particularly. I guess it has all of the same issues and all of the same weird intricacies. There used to be a guy named ‘Shook’ who became locally famous. He wasn’t very good, he just tagged everything from here to London. He was from Norwich though… He was a mystery, but he was also hated by a lot of street artists. He would tag people’s vans in the Golden Triangle. There’s also Knapple, as soon as she became well-known she started getting beef. I think it’s jealousy with her though.

Anyway, my point is that even Banksy got a lot of shit from the local graffiti scene in Bristol.

One thing that did used to be slightly unique is that they would have an annual throw up around Anglia Square. Some of these guys were rumoured to have been really well known but turning up under a pseudonym and painting in a style that people wouldn’t recognise. It’s a shame that this doesn’t really happen anymore.

It’s definitely different from London. The community here are supportive, the community in London seem to be quite aggressive. But I am not a graffer, so I am possibly speaking out of turn. I’m just going on friends that dabble in that world.

With Knapple specifically, I remember seeing that she’d done a promotional thing with the company that was redeveloping a church on Park Lane into luxury flats. Undoubtedly she’s a great artist, kind of the face of Norwich street art, but I also can’t help but feeling that any statement of dissent or ‘rebellion’ that comes along with street art is sort of neutralised when your art appears on the front of a corporate construction site. Is that kind of countercultural attitude dead anyway in 2022?

I definitely think she’s a bit corporate. Not exactly what I like, but I can see why some people find her more accessible. The positivity and playfulness, on top of clear permissions from companies, makes her accessible to people who usually dislike street art.

I actually think there are some people that are better within this world. Anmar Mirza and Ed Le May are both artists from the area that are often asked to work for local companies. But I think that they would turn down a development project for flats, based on their strong principles.

I do think that there are still people in Norwich that are breaking the rules. I have no idea who the ‘never trust a Tory’ person is but they are prolific. Also, the ‘mof’ animal guy is brilliant!

There’s also the notorious Milk. Sadly, I believe he was caught by the police on Prince of Wales. I love the silliness of some of these.

Norwich is fairly rebellious, but it’s quiet.

At this point, the interview is cut short by the static which has been threatening to overwhelm Midas's digitally warped voice the whole time. I sit there and listen to the static, hoping to catch some faint ghost of a voice, but no such luck.

All photos from the @midasframes *nst*gr*m account.

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