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The Comedy of Errors

Stop Wars to Stop Racism: The History Behind Belward Street's Iconic Street Art

24 June 20 words: Richie 'Pops' Baker

For years, Richie 'Pops' Baker's 'Stop Wars' design stood as one of Nottingham's most recognisable and iconic street art pieces. Having recently been reimagined as the new 'Stop Racism' piece, the artist, who now calls New Zealand home, explains the history behind his design...

Some time in early 2003 I was wearing a t-shirt featuring artwork that designed myself. The word ‘Space’ was central to the design, and the words ‘Stop War’ were also on it, in my handwriting, really small in the top right-hand corner.

The future mother of our three boys, and current ex-wife, stared at it for a second and asked me why I had Star Wars writing on my t-shirt.

“What?” I asked. “It says ‘Stop War’!”

“Oh… right” she replied. “You know what? You should design a ‘Stop Wars’ piece in the style of ‘Star Wars’.

Boom! That was it. It was exactly the kind of motivating iconography I had been looking for to channel the flow of my creative and destructive juices. It summed up my frustration about impending onslaught and illegal invasion of Iraq, and my determination to do something about it.

I designed it straight away, and took it to Flying Colours print shop at the bottom of Hockley.

As I passed by, I noticed a shop named One Degree Left was opening up next to Flying Colours, and it had a friend’s paintings in there. It hadn’t opened officially yet, and didn’t have much stock, but I went it to chat to the guy there about the paintings.

After flicking through the t-shirts he had on the rack, I started to wonder whether he might want to stock my Stop Wars tees. One Degree Left, and all that. I showed him my design, hoping he’d offer to stock them right there and then. But he just looked at it a little confused, and said, “Yeah… right.” I guess not then. I was a bit disappointed and slightly confused, but carried on next door to get my t-shirts printed.

A couple of days later I go to pick them up with the added thought that the penny might have dropped for the guy in One Degree Left. By that time he had plenty more stock in. I start looking through the extended rack of tees, wondering if he’s going to ask me about my design when, lo and behold, what do I see? Stop Wars t-shirts. Better quality than mine, too – complete with diagrams of bombs and various other components on the back. Proper professional looking.

“Aye…” I say, holding one up to the owner.

“Yeah I know. I was trippin’ about that when you came in the other day. It’s some guys from Ireland called Apache. They’ve been doing them for a little while now.” He tells me, or words to that effect.

“What? Well, I’m still going to rock my own hand-drawn version of it.” I eventually insist. It wasn’t long after that that I went and painted my version in white on the black wall on the crossroads of Belward Street and Goose Gate.

Not too long after that I saw a photo online of a protest in London, and one of the banners had a big Star Wars-style Stop Wars logo on it. At some point after that a company in America started advertising their own version of Stop Wars t-shirts online modelled by Natalie Portman.

The hundredth monkey effect, perhaps?

Wu-Tang Clan used a photo of the original to advertise their A Better World song release

It was an apparent accident for me, way before the Banksy/not Banksy stormtrooper version made it ever better known, but not before those Irish Apache guys, and whoever else got it out there in the world.

One of my favourite incidents regarding the design came when Wu-Tang Clan used a photo of the original to advertise their A Better World song release a few years after that.

It was after the first painting had been there four years that it dawned on me that I could leave the ‘ST’ as it was, but paint ‘ART’ over the ‘OP’ and ‘PEACE’ over the ‘WARS’. Same game, different name, but with more directly positive imagery.

I think it was during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Nottingham that someone painted a rough version of the Tibertan flag on it. It gave me the idea to colour the letters myself with my own chosen colours, which I did not long before I moved over here to New Zealand in 2008.

A few years later I saw that Dilk, a friend of mine, had painted over it with his own colourful, fluid style. He’d honoured my previous work by including a person wearing a Stop Wars t-shirt.

And now there’s a new version – the Stop Racism painting by Boaster. What can I say about it? It’s relevant to put it mildly. I put a screenshot of Boaster’s Instagram post on my Facebook with the caption “Neighbourhood and the Merry Mentality”. It makes me feel ever more honoured to be a Merry Man, and to be human. And to be a human used by the Great Creative Intelligence for whatever it has up it’s sleeve.

I’ve done a few Start Peace paintings over here in NZ, and just this May, during lockdown, I’d done a Share Love design as the latest in the series. Coming soon to a who-knows-what near you.

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