Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Graffiti artists turn abandoned luxury liner into giant, psychedelic canvas

March 20, 2013 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)
Former cruise liner, the <i>Duke of Lancaster</i>, was docked on the banks of the Dee Estuary in north Wales three decades ago. It has now become a canvas for graffiti artists from across Europe. Former cruise liner, the Duke of Lancaster, was docked on the banks of the Dee Estuary in north Wales three decades ago. It has now become a canvas for graffiti artists from across Europe.
HIDE CAPTION
Grand old duke
Pirate painters
Monkey business
Graffiti geisha
Big dreams
Black duke
Dark arts
Paint a picture
Heyday
Luxury liner
Docked days
Fun times
Ghost ship
Future duke?
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Grounded ship, Duke of Lancaster, attracts graffiti artists from across world
  • The ship has a rich history, from passenger ferry to beached Funship
  • The vessel was left to decay until arts collective DuDug set to work
  • Campaign to turn ship into centerpiece of arts festival

Editor's note: MainSail is CNN's monthly sailing show, exploring the sport of sailing, luxury travel and the latest in design and technology.

(CNN) -- Three monkeys dressed in suits crouch on bulging sacks of money, striking the symbolic pose of "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil."

At more than 10-meters tall, the imposing chimps are the size of a three-storey building, dwarfing onlookers gazing up at their grim, spray-painted faces.

The menacing monkeys are joined on all sides by similarly fantastical and macabre creatures -- from skeleton divers to slobbering pigs -- and you get the feeling that out here, in the desolate British marshlands, no one would hear you scream were they to come alive.

The 'Council of Monkeys'  The 'Council of Monkeys'
The 'Council of Monkeys'The 'Council of Monkeys'

Welcome to the Duke of Lancaster. A hulking, rusting, abandoned ship on the Dee Estuary in north Wales, which has become a canvas for some of the most renowned graffiti artists from across Europe.

Read related: Ghostly underwater art gallery breathes new life to sunken ship

"It's got the potential to be the biggest open-air art project in the world," ship co-ordinator, Paul Williams, said.

"The quality and size of the pieces is spectacular -- there aren't many places in the world that can accommodate artworks 10-meters high."

Work of art

At a whopping 137-meters long, seven storeys tall, and weighing 4,500-tons, the former cruise liner is an awe-inspiring sight in the deserted countryside.

It was this remarkable setting which prompted graffiti collective DuDug -- a word play on the Welsh for "black duke" -- to approach the ship's owners with the innovative idea of turning the abandoned vessel into a thriving arts destination.

The toughest yacht race in the world
Extreme sailing in Rio
Top Olympic sailor embraces new venture

With the owners' approval, artists from across Europe began spray painting the decrepit ship, using cherry pickers -- a type of hydraulic aerial work platform -- to reach its towering walls.

They are now campaigning to have the site reopened to the public as the centerpiece of an arts festival.

"When the pieces first started appearing, we had some people say 'that's no way to treat the ship.'" Williams said.

"But there's no doubt that what they're doing is art -- the key definition between art and graffiti is graffiti is done illegally. This, however, is done with the owner's knowledge and accommodation.

"And if it's the catalyst for regeneration, it's got to be a good thing," added Williams.

More from Mainsail: World's top five 'boatels'

Vibrant vessel

The surreal artworks of punk geishas and bandit businessmen have an anarchist aesthetic inspired by the history of the ship -- particularly the owners' struggle with the local council to keep it open.

The largest of these pieces is "Eduk the Diver" -- a skeleton in a retro deep-sea diving suit -- which is 18-meters tall and 14-meters wide.

Hailing from across Europe, the top graffiti artists include France's GOIN, who created the impressive Council of Monkeys image, and Latvian KIWIE who painted the creepy pirates on the ship's bow.

"The first phase of artists chose the theme of corruption to work with and their artworks certainly portrayed this," Dudug co-ordinator, Maurice Blunt, said.

"I can see no better way to bring the historical plight of this beautiful old lady to the world other than creating a true landmark -- the largest open air gallery in Europe."

From ferry to funship

It's the latest reincarnation for a ship which began life as a British passenger ferry in 1956.

Built in the same shipyard in Belfast as the Titanic, the Duke boasted an opulent interior, silver service restaurant and spacious cabins.

"She was one of the finest vessels afloat at the time," Williams said of the ship, which also operated as a luxury cruise liner during the summer months.

It's got the potential to be the biggest open-air art project in the world
Paul Williams, Duke of Lancaster manager

In 1970 the Duke was converted into a car ferry and by 1978 she was destined for the scrap yard when four entrepreneurs bought her in the hope of turning her into a land-based leisure and retail complex.

And so in 1979 the Funship, as she was known, was permanently beached on the banks of the Dee Esturay and equipped with a mall, cinema, game arcade, restaurant, nightclub and hotel rooms.

Eerie inspiration

But the fun times would be short lived. The council withdrew support for the ship due to safety concerns, and it closed in 1985.

"After many years of long-running disputes with the council, the owners decided to lock the doors, walk away and concentrate on other business ventures," Williams said. "John Rowley (one of the owners) always wanted to see the ship have a purposeful use and has continued to fight tirelessly to make that happen.

"Inside, it's like a time capsule. Other than some minor vandalism, it's immaculate."

The untouched interior adds a ghostly quality to the historic ship, which cuts an impressive figure on the deserted quay.

"It's a very eerie place," Williams said. "But that's part of the reason why it captures people's imaginations."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
MainSail
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1136 GMT (1936 HKT)
Over 300 miles from the nearest ocean, competitors in one of the world's fastest sailing races prepare for battle.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
London's new superyacht hotel is so enormous, authorities had to lower the water level by five meters just to fit it under a bridge.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
His mast-walking stunts have attracted over 3.5 million hits on YouTube, but Alex Thomson just wants to get back to doing what he does best.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Elizabeth Meyer talks to CNN's Mainsail about the "Armageddon battle" to restore the pioneering J-class boat Endeavour.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1150 GMT (1950 HKT)
Ship captains of the future won't be salty sea dogs with their hand at the helm, and the ocean at their feet.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1348 GMT (2148 HKT)
Like "Downton Abbey," Henley's Royal Regatta reminds its visitors of an England of old. But for how much longer?
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
VO65 'Dongfeng' Training in Hong Kong
Nine months at sea, one change of clothes, freeze-dried food and a strange language. Could you cope?
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Can a $134 million budget and the royal seal of approval bring the coveted America's Cup back to British shores for the first time in sailing history?
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Bored of lounging on your superyacht in the Mediterranean? An increasing number of millionaires are now sailing their luxury vessels to the ends of the Earth, to get their kicks.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 1613 GMT (0013 HKT)
He's one of the great landscape artists, but JMW Turner also had a watery passion -- and his maritime travels are being retraced.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
How do you get a foot on the property ladder, when you live in one of the most expensive cities in the world? The answer may lie in the water...
May 6, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Quadriplegic yachtswoman Hilary Lister was saved from suicide through the sport of sailing. Now she is plotting a voyage across the Atlantic.
ADVERTISEMENT