Walking Men

Some time at the end of the 20th century, a strange phenomenon appeared on our streets: Pedestrian Symbol S2, a white painted figure defining the separation of space between walking and cycling. But the lack of template or stencil meant this bland uniform sign unwittingly became an oppor­tunity for artistic expression.

Graffiti aside, hand-drawn signs have virtually disappeared from our urban landscape. Yet these Walking Men are not only hand-made but often gloriously so, created with generously applied viscous ‘lining’ paint.

The variety is extraordinary. Sometimes the official design is followed reasonably. Other times, it’s just ignored and quite sophisticated alterna­tive personal versions created. Then occasionally we see awkwardly distressed versions – maybe the painter was having trouble, and would have preferred to be doing simple white lines that day.

Perhaps these Walking Men reveal something about ourselves. Though clear design rules were laid down, isn’t it human nature to let our individ­uality subvert those rules a little?

Stephen Wragg, a fine art graduate of Chelsea School of Art, was commissioned in 2004 to map and photograph the fast-expanding National Cycle Network for local Highways authorities.

He soon began to notice the variation in the white pedestrian symbols along the way. So began a seven-year odyssey to track down and document the Walking Men of Britain.

The full collection is featured on his website.



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