Mancsy’s limited edition screen prints first appeared on Manchester’s streets in January 2012, making regular appearances ever since. The prints locations are publicised via Twitter and Facebook and are available for free to the first person who finds his ‘free bees’ in a game he calls ‘finders keepers’. They are normally posted in and around the Northern Quarter, but have appeared in other areas such as Levenshulme and Oxford Street, and further-afield in such locations as Bristol, London and New York.
Over the years, the prints have been used to support events and a number of local groups and charities, from Foster for Manchester to Mustard Tree. He has also been involved in projects such as Brew Wild Manchester (creating the labelling featured below) and the Printworks beehives (commemorated in a Hard Rock café pin, featured below). Like all of his work, he does not charge for his input and covers costs of work and ‘free bees’ giveaways through print sales from his online shop.
His tag logo, which is often featured on his prints, is a combination of the symbolic industrious Manchester Bee combined with yellow and black diagonal hazard stripes used in the Hacienda. In 2015 he held an exhibition at Victoria Warehouse to coincide with the unveiling of a multi-storey 20 metre square banner, depicting his bee logo and his message that today Manchester is a capital of creativity (see top picture). The banner hung on the end wall of the building, dominating the view over Trafford Road roundabout. After the exhibition ended, the banner made repeated reappearance until the wall was covered in an electronic screen in November 2017.
Recently, he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his use of the bee and his thoughts on its recent prominence.
Q: A few years back you sent me a few photographs to share on the Manchester Bees Tumblr (link), including one of your own Manchester Civic Week medal. I was curious how much research you’ve done on the bee and its history, either prior to using it in your work, or subsequently.
A: Hey, I still have the civic badge medal. In fact I have several. I buy them off eBay. I take an interest in Manchester’s history, before I began I did quite a bit of research, I have enjoyed the Manchester History Festival events, regularly can be found in Central and John Rylands Libraries and the Peoples History Museum. I like to go on walking tours and try and see the city through other people’s eyes. I read books about the city, past and present and continue to collect unusual MCR related items from eBay. An example would be researching Pankhurst and the Suffragettes, I had been doing this for 2 years before I released my Pankhurst Punk print. Finding the quite took longer than designing the graphic content of the work.
I have spent a long time wandering the city observing, for the next Not Quite Light Festival in Salford I made several visits to gather information and while I’m introverted by nature I talked to over 20 people.
I don’t know when I first found out about the bees, they seem to have always been buzzing in my head.
Q: Related to the above, is there anything of note that you feel is little known about the Bee as a symbol of the city? Personally, I find it fascinating that the ceiling of the Great Hall in the Town Hall is covered in bees, more than anywhere else in the city, but there’s barely a mention of them online.
A: I can’t think of anything that you with your bee knowledge would not know. I picked up my 1st Manchester Civic Week medal from 1926 and then started to collect them. I look at bees everywhere and watch them. It’s not just bees it’s the people our bees represent. I remember conversations and every time someone sparks an idea I give something back even if I do not use it for years and send them some prints.
Q: I’m also curious what the bee represent to you, especially nowadays in the wake of the Manchester bombing? Has it changed since you started using it in your work?
A: It’s awkward to talk about the over use of imagery or imagery which may not be well designed in light of the Manchester attack, these things exist but the message carries a great deal for the city. The symbol of an industrious workforce now also speaks of solidarity after the attack. I like the transformative nature of this message and that people wear this message in tattoos and symbols about their person.
When I officially started in 2012, I have been mulling over the ideas for many years. My interpretation came through thinking about industrious nature the city to the culture of the city today. I thought about what we are famous for today, the common denominator between sports, music and invention seem to be creativity. That is why I make reference to hazard stripes. I was on Spear Street at the back of Dry Bar when the idea came to me, I say this is where Mancsy was born but it is more like his conception! I amused myself as I created the concept and named it Mancsy playing with ideas around MCR and street art.
Q: As one of the earliest modern users of bee imagery, do you think, or are you aware, that your use of the bee has inspired others? I found it interesting that Manchester United’s 2016/17 third kit contained some bee imagery after your giant bee had been on display on the side of Victoria Warehouse for quite some time.
A: I know I have inspired many. Some who have tried to pass off versions of my bee as their own and some who have unfortunately profited from it. I have worked with school groups, communities and individuals to encourage them to develop their own creativity. I have a day job and do not need Mancsy to generate a profit, only cover costs. It allows me a great deal of freedom to explore ideas and support projects which interest me. I am approached all the time and turn down fantastic opportunities which do not fit with my ethics or intentions.
I am driven by my love and passion for the city I also want to engage people in creative activity and draw an audience who may not visit galleries but may engage with Art through the game of finders keepers. It has worked. My fans and collectors generally could not plot the sequence of Art movements but they have a growing interest and curiosity and many report visiting galleries and seeing new things as a result of the game. My bee represents the culture of Manchester today. I was only ever going to do this as a project for five months but social media allowed me to develop a wider audience rapidly. Today 10,000 people on Twitter and my social media community matter, the recent BBC coverage, extensive charity fundraising and personal feedback where my actions have created a positive impact on someone’s life make it valuable.
Q: Finally, I was wondering if you’ve had issues with people monetizing your bee imagery for your own gain, especially of late. I’m aware that a number of folk who’ve made long-term use of bee imagery have had problems with others co-opting their work for profit.
A: I have thoughts about this relating to my feelings after the attack. I know a lot of people with good intentions started to use imagery to fundraise, we all wanted to do something and help in some way. With good intention some people started to give a significant percentage of profits but some also generated profitable income. I gave all money to the fund for a month at a time when sales increased as people wanted something relating to Manchester and the bee graphic was symbolic. I was honoured to work with James and many other projects to fund raise for the campaign after the bomb. I anticipate my involvement has raised over £10,000 and possibly more. I don’t take much interest in the numbers but happy to help in a small way. I never want to show my face or take any praise from any of it, I just do what I do as I’m driven by the process not the product.