Great Northern Warehouse Manchester

You might not know him by name, not his real one anyway, but Russell Meehan is the man behind the famous Northern Quarter mural of the 22 bees.

So it comes as no surprise that he was more than keen to paint a bee for the Bee in the City trail.

Bee Unique can be found in Crowcroft Park, Longsight, and Russell says the children from Stanley Grove Primary Academy helped him with the design.

“I think I got over 100 designs from all the kids,” he says. “They used their own template and then I had to go through all of them and try and condense them into the bee, basically.

“I picked ten of my favourites and then used aspects of each to fill the bee. Then I made a couple of my own alterations as well, like adding the flowers. I wanted to include some nature details for a more organic aspect.”

The Bee in the City initiative is a way of bringing arts to the public in a manner that doesn’t force people to go to a gallery, Russell says, and the fact that the sculptures are bee-shaped makes everything even more special.

Russell remembers the community spirit that surfaced following the Arena attack and the way Manchester pulled together as a city and says these giant bee sculptures are now bringing people together once again.

“I didn’t expect the amount of coverage that my artwork got at the time,” he says. “Before the attack I had been doing the bee for about two years on the streets and I already had a name in the local area because of it. It’s amazing that people then used that as a symbol.

“It’s really nice to be able to be part of it but it’s a shame that it took something so tragic to bring that out.

“When I was doing that piece in Stevenson’s Square there were about 40 people stood behind me watching, and I was like, ‘This is crazy!’

“What was even nicer was that they were all chatting to each other and that was the power of the image, not just my bee but all the other ones, too. One simple thing brought so many people together, and as I said before that picture was definitely worth a thousand words.”

Russell signs his work under the pseudonym Qubek, and his favourite thing about street art is that it generates conversation within the community without needing explanations.

He’s been doing murals, the more ‘commercial’ aspect of his work, for almost seven years now, but painting is something he has enjoyed doing ever since he was a child. Influenced by his art teacher, he went to college in Stockport but never took any professional training in order to become a ‘certified’ artist.

“I did a few standard jobs after college but I always carried on doing graffiti or street art, whatever you want to call it.

“I suppose I started doing it more in the Northern Quarter and around the streets in Manchester and then people started to recognise my work. I’ve just been doing it for the love really, and sometimes without permission.” he laughs.

“It’s come round organically but I never thought I could be part of an industry or an art practice and make money out of it. Street art is never about making money. It’s becoming more commercial these days but we used to go out and do it for the fun of it.”

Russell admits he feels strange when people who admire his work come and call him Qubek and explains that his tag “doesn’t really mean anything in particular”, but it’s vital for street artists who can’t sign their work under their real name.

“With my tag, I wanted a circular letter to start it all off so I chose the Q and it just came around randomly. I just wanted it to sound good.”

Russell’s bee has been commissioned by Longsight Buzz, Great Places Housing Group and One Manchester.

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