Meet Motley. ‘Incongruously varied in appearance or character.’

It was fairly easy contacting Motley through Insta, but when we got to swapping emails I struggled to start with ‘Hi Motley, I’d like to meet up for a chat.’

By Manchester's Finest | 17 February 2020

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I asked what I should (on emails) call him. He replied Motley and we made arrangements to meet. At least…we managed to make arrangements to meet at a designated spot close to where he lives and he walks me in.

It’s very close to the city centre, it’s very ‘derelict industrial,’ it’s very, very hidden away. The reason for that, Motley tells me, is that the ‘lease’ he signed is for a council house in London.

He’s never met the landlord and nobody seems to know who he is. I can see that’s why it appealed to….Motley. But he’s moving out soon and so he doesn’t mind me giving that fact away. Having said that, once inside, the live/work space is very, very cool.

Straight away the Banksy word crops up. “Please don’t compare me to Banksy.

“So why do you stay anonymous Motley?” (By this time I was calling him by his real name, which he had no problem telling me, once we were face-to-face. But for editorial purposes…)

“It’s just because I’ve upset a few people. I’ve actually had physical threats. I’m a bit more careful now.”

Now…Motley…is very quietly spoken and I can’t imagine him upsetting anybody. But then that’s exactly what he did when he flyposted an official looking sign in Piccadilly Gardens which said, ‘DESIGNATED DRUG DEALING AREA.’

I guess that the Council were upset because it had their logo on it. A furore followed, with Manchester City Council saying that ‘the problem was no laughing matter.’

I guess the Council spokesperson also thought that Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was promoting drug use, rather than condemning it. Missing the point completely (and no sense of humour).

So Motley is, for the time being, keeping his head down. I ask whether he sees his work as flyposting, graffiti or street art.

He takes a surprising pause before saying ‘flyposting.’ But then it is flyposting, because he creates images on paper and sticks them onto walls with his own recipe of wheat glue. “I do get a bit of an adrenalin kick,” he confides. “But I used to go out in the middle of the night, now I go out in the evenings…and then go back in the morning to see if they’re still there.”

Strangely we move on to town planning. With his own twist on things. But a little background to where Motley and his work originated.

He was adopted at 13 years old and spent the next five years in a ‘fairly right wing, Southern rural environment.’ But he couldn’t wait to get back to Manchester…although he’s the only person I’ve ever met that proudly wears a Stockport T-shirt to boast his specific origins.

He began a course at MMU on town planning; interested in the urban environment as opposed to the rural, ‘where nothing really happened.’ Very soon Motley realised that his interests lay far from traditional town planning and joined a creative course.

It was here that visual experimentation began, along with a fascination with street signage. Motley takes a printed sign from a pile on his (very cool) floor. “Look, this one has loads of health and safety symbols, but nobody will take any notice, because there are so many on one sign.” I’m beginning to understand.

“I started to illustrate, just enjoyed doing that, making images. But the Uni were constantly trying to make me read something deep and meaningful into my images. I just enjoyed making them. That’s all.”

But Motley did graduate and now ‘flyposts’ his ideas. Funny, political, beautifully created. Some are hard hitting, some are just artistic statements. “I’m going to New Wakefield Street tonight to post this image. It’s a poem by Kieron Vanderkamp.”

We’re still on town planning and he says he’s worried about all the new buildings in Manchester. “They’re all so white and clean. If I posted on them it would be removed within a few minutes.” And so, I ask, would your town planning include dilapidated brick walls that invited fly posting, street art and graffiti?”

“Of course,” Motley replies. I’m not sure if he’s joking, but his look quickly tells me that he isn’t. “I want to be Lord Mayor. I want Andy Burnham’s job.” Now that’s an intriguing prospect.