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Graffiti artists turn abandoned luxury liner into giant, psychedelic canvas

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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'
Courtesy Alan Brodie
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.

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“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.

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.

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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