brixton murals

following the brixton riots in 1981 lambeth council commissioned a number of murals in an attempt to improve the area for local residents. some of the murals are now in a poor state of repair but others have survived more-or-less intact, due to differences in location, the paint used and how the walls were prepared before painting. the volunteer-run london mural preservation society was established in 2010 with the aim to catalogue, publicise, protect and restore murals across the city.

click on images for larger versions.

brixton windmill mural. original – caroline thorp, mick harrison. restoration – positive arts.

this mural celebrates one of the last remaining windmills in london, which was restored to working order in 2011, and references historical links to the countryside and food production methods. part of the mural design has been restored as per the original while other elements – for example the local allotments in the centre right panel – were added in the 2012 restoration.

windmill mural before restoration

part of the reason for its deterioration was the original use of household paint. the restoration uses spray paint.

mauleverer road mural. jane gifford, mick harrison, caroline thorp, ruth blench.

imagery drawn from the new forest, brockwell park, and the previous life of the building as  stables for horses delivering beer in the area. the view of the carribean was requested by a local resident who wanted a reminder of home.


the muted tones of the weathered paint (applied directly to the brick without render) are rather pleasing.

big splash mural. christine thomas and local community.

an accomplished design, developed with widespread community consultation, which includes a rich variety of local people and references. the river depicted is the effra, one of london’s “lost” rivers which flow beneath the city. numerous pieces of pottery reference the royal doulton factory in lambeth and the women who worked there.

bellefields road. london wall mural group.

a fragmented design (rendered more so by my composite picture). non-political in intent and somewhat literal in representation.

bellefields road beach mural. london wall mural group.

designed to compliment the earlier mural on the same road. the lower part has been graffitied and painted over.

children at play. stephen pusey.

this mural depicting local children on the side of the brixton academy music venue was partially restored in 2011. it is generally well preserved, largely due to the use of keim silicate paint, developed in c19th germany to be particularly weather resistant. apparently the rather devilish expressions were not entirely intentional on the part of the artist.

brixton station food mural. karen smith, angie biltcliffe.

the station murals were painted on boards which were subsequently fixed to the walls, rather than being painted onto them directly. a celebration of foodstuffs that could be bought in the market.

brixton station clutter mural. karen smith, angie biltcliffe.

an eclectic mix of items for sale in the second hand market, including many local references.

nuclear dawn. brian barnes, dale mccrea.

perhaps the most iconic – certainly the most overtly political – of brixton’s murals. a sharp reminder of the political climate and concerns of the era. it is situated on the side of carlton mansions, a housing co-op since the late 1970s, currently under threat of eviction for redevelopment and loss of the mural. the british cabinet were originally depicted in a bunker, now covered in graffiti at the base of the mural. the original design is held in the print room at the v&a.

there is an online petition and facebook page dedicated to preserving the mural.

gks public art project

on  our travels it was good to see that the mural tradition is still alive in brixton – vitreous enamel murals on the gks elderly sheltered scheme in glanelg road (2005).


instant interventions

our group task yesterday was to take a little time around the building and make/leave a piece of work that responded to the place. i’ll admit my heart wasn’t really in it – i depend a lot on my research process to find inspiration, it’s rarely something that comes out of the blue, and as a relative newbie to this campus still i’m pretty unfamiliar with most of it and don’t have any real sense of connection with it.

we went to the canteen to consider our options and while we were there i did my standard thing when i haven’t a clue what to do – start fiddling. taking the leaflets from the tables i folded a few pleated origami shapes, other members of the group altered the leaflets in other ways. we played with “fortune tellers” and liked the interactive/playful element. we decided to scale up to the largest pieces of paper/card we could scrounge. with very limited time to develop the idea or come up with unusual/interesting fortunes we settled on the drinks menu, for the indecisive amongst us. we placed the altered leaflets and fortune tellers on the tables.

our lack of success was immediately obvious when the group returned less than half an hour later to find all of the leaflets had been binned. one of the fortune tellers had been moved but otherwise we saw no interaction with them by the people who were there. part of the problem was probably choosing an area that is often littered and also often cleaned/tidied. the lack of any real skill or craft in the objects we left rendered them very much in the “litter” category. jessie also pointed out that there was nothing genuinely site-specific about them – they could have applied to any canteen/coffee shop in any place.

the most successful intervention involved a series of clay plaques commemorating pieces of broken equipment and incidents where breakages took place, as a reflection of the run down state of the building as a whole. they demonstrated some level of technical understanding/time spent in the use of materials and execution. they also demonstrated personal connections with the site – some specific memories and experiences, some shared by the other users of the building.

public art in cardiff

this module should be a good excuse to really pay attention to the public art that’s all around me. planning to cover as much as possible of the council map (under map categories choose environment > public art) and the easily-accessible empty walls project in roath.

a couple of old favourites to get started:

felice varini – 3 ellipses for 3 locks (cardiff bay)

a work that manages to intrigue on all scales, simple but effective. it draws the viewer in, confuses you, forces you to try to make sense of it. so off you set to put the jigsaw pieces together and find the right spot to view it from…

more pictures

(as previously blogged) jane edden – post secrets (the hayes)

as well as enjoying the scenes inside the posts, i really appreciate their understatement and subtlety. it’s very easy to walk past them for months or years without realising they’re there.

the area is central, very busy and the effect on unknowing passers-by of suddenly stooping to peer into a bollard or the kids excitedly racing off to find the next one is entertaining. curious people first pause, confused, and often end up following your lead.

interview with jane edden where she talks about the practicalities and processes involved in making the project, as well as the public response.

making art for the public realm: competition or commission

new project: new blog requirements.

i’ve kept a craft blog for many years but my habit is to post sporadically, usually at the end of a project, as documentation and a way of finally wrapping up, all neat and tidy. my previous field module required just the one blog post at the end of the project but the current one asks for more frequent updates.

so, to start, today’s research task was to identify 5 pieces of public art that in some way inspired us. one should relate to our discipline (in my case maker, a broad church), one should touch on something we haven’t yet explored, and one should be something we have criticisms of.

1. jeremy deller – sacrilege

a bouncy-castle stonehenge which toured the country. this work appeals to me in so many ways. my previous academic background is in archaeology, and my fondest memory of my digging days is a late-night party held in west kennet long barrow. the site is open to the public and we were careful to leave it as we found it, but the combination of transgression (of national trust mores) and participation in a communal gathering left a lasting impression that no number of daytime visits could match.

i’ve once touched the stones at stonehenge (which are ordinarily cordoned off) at a midsummer gathering, which gave me  a similar lasting memory. deller brings a national icon to the people in a way that is simply impossible if it is to be preserved for future generations.

2. heatherwick studio – bleigiessen

the sheer scale of this piece (142,000 glass spheres suspended on 27,000 high tensile steel wires; 15 tonnes of glass and just under a million metres of wire) inspires me – as someone who generally works small – combined with the story of its inception. while the space it occupies (at the headquarters of the wellcome trust in london) is immense, the access routes were the size of a domestic doorway. that’s some design constraints right there.

i wasn’t sure where to place heatherwick studio – as a collective, as designers, architects – most of their work is primarily practical in nature, but always with an overriding aesthetic that says “art” to me. we had a brilliant talk from neil hubbard last term about their design approach which really embraces process and materials. they’re in the business of realising ideas, which puts them firmly in the maker camp imho.

3. taro chieso – superlambanana

aesthetically i can’t relate to the 17-foot tall concrete and fiberglass mutant hybrid at all 😀 but it seems to be particularly successful in term of public art and has been taken to the hearts of the people of liverpool.

this is demonstrated by the proliferation and popularity of a flock of smaller customised versions that appeared on the city’s streets to mark the city’s tenure as european city of culture in 2008.

4. rachel whiteread – house

familiar but disconcerting , ordinary yet extraordinary, quirky and controversial. its construction and destruction were the subject of much debate among critics and the public alike.

5. ruthin art trail

this is my “could be better” work. i was alerted to its presence by discovery (always a good start, to stumble across something that irresistibly draws your attention). a small red tarmac circle on the pavement, set in metal and sparkling in the rain, a small jewel. i wanted to know why it was there.

the internet told me it was a marker for a sculpture trail – intended to encourage the visitor to stop, look around and appreciate the finer architectural points and hidden histories of the medieval market town.

in theory all well and good but the scale of the works (10-inch figures on rooftops, spy holes in walls/doors) seems too small to be effective. my second though was that the size of the work was due to the constraints of installing art in a historic town with many listed buildings, but i must admit my first thought was that it was due to lack of funds/ambition.

the trail hadn’t been fully installed on my last visit and appeared to be greeted with scepticism by locals. i look forward to revisiting the work as it’s completed to see whether the whole stacks up and if the spy holes are as effective as the much-enjoyed ones in the hayes in cardiff.

field project: global cultural collaboration

this field project was supposed to be “going to morocco” – it was supposed to be a photography project. since it turned out i was unable to travel it turned into “what am i itching to make more of?” 😉

the original inspiration was a visit to the alhambra 15 (!) or so years ago. i fell in love with the decoration, the colour, the use of light and space. that trip to spain and morocco influenced my use of hard landscaping materials in our little garden.

brick and tiles

when the option modules came up i figured i could take my interest in origami tessellations a step further exploring islamic tile patterns. i knew they could be translated into fabric and since this was a textiles workshop-based course that seemed like a good direction to take.

origami tessellations in fabric | original design | indigo shibori dyed cotton

then i saw fannie van arkel’s work and realised she did it better than i ever could 😀 so i returned to the paper side of things. we’d constructed some paper models for translating into fabric manipulation, but the quality of those models really inspired me – that simple straight cuts and folds could bring the flat paper to life, give it a more organic form.

paper model for fabric manipulation

it reminded me of a) the sculptural qualities of geometric tile patterning – that skilled designers can map a pattern constructed with straight lines to fit onto curved domes – and b) my previous experiments with pleat tessellations following the techniques of goran konjevod.

pleat tessellations (pureland or organic origami)

i’m pleased with these – each uses the same simple technique but i’ve managed to improvise patterns and to some extent predict how a particular fold pattern will come out. i should have taken more pictures of the pieces backlit and/or used more translucent papers to show off the technique best. i developed these models into a larger 32-grid piece.

pleated origami | cartridge paper, drawing ink

i really should have looked up issey miyake sooner. not only does he have an entire clothing line based on simple pleats he also creates lanterns reminiscent of the paper folding xmas decorations we had as kids in the 70s.

issey miyake

and he uses a very simple technique to make the pleats –  simple if you’re a reasonably confident paper folder – two matching pleated paper patterns with the fabric sandwiched between and heat setting the pleats. i adapted some of my previous models and improvised patterns on the same basic prefold grids. my pleats aren’t permanent since they’re just ironed flat.

paper moulded fabric pleats | cotton, silk, ripstop nylon

i used these techniques on a larger piece that i shibori dyed (in itself a geometric, folding process) using clothes peg resists. i think my attempt to create a soft drape out of straight lines was successful in this piece.

silk | shibori dyed with drawing ink | heat-set pleats

all this prefolding on a grid brought me back round to examining the underlying geometry of the tile patterns that originally inspired me, probably the most rewarding part of the module. i drew templates for 8- and 12-point symmetry squares by hand and with software (Geometer’s Sketch Pad 5 – 1 year licence under £10, recommended) and mapped tile and screen patterns.

constructing a 12-point-symmetry base with geometer’s sketchpad

never one to miss the chance to do some hand paper cutting i made a small box using the mapped patterns and one i drafted on the basic 8-point base. this was also inspired by the craft skill and patterning of islamic carved jali screens. this really needs a light inside, and could translate well into laser-cut materials.

lantern box

woven silk

so many lessons follow from taking the sample off the loom…

here’s how it came off – coarse and stiff due to the sericin remaining in the threads.

degumming involves gently simmering with an alkali and a surfactant (soda ash and synthrapol respectively). i used 1 tbsp soda and 2 of synthrapol and cooked for just over an hour.

following degumming 2 things are obvious : the fabric is mush softer and more flexible; it’s also sleazy (i think that’s the technical term :D). the weft threads slide a lot on the warp. part of my degumming was squeezing the cloth between my fingers to remove the jelly-like gum and the threads packed down as you can see above. on drying they were even slidier – they pack down into half the length of the warp. this tells me my sett was too wide – i didn’t have enough warp ends to make any kind of balanced cloth – and the slipperiness of the cleaned silk makes this even more apparent.

the other thing that jumps out is how un-shiny the finished cloth is, especially when compared to the naked warp threads which positively glow. i tried to catch the difference but a photo really doesn’t do it justice.

a couple of changes to my next sample suggested themselves. i doubled the number of warp ends per inch (4 per hole/slot), these threads gather together on the loom, making for a pronounced stripe in the cloth, i’ve no idea if it’s possible they’ll spread themselves out during finishing. i also increased the weight of the weft, in the hope that might produce a more balanced cloth, rather than the weft-face i’ve ended up with. i’ve done a short section with the original weft (2-ply) another with 32-ply to match the 32 threads through each hole and slot (4 x 8-ply threads), and another section with 16-ply (the easiest for me to produce from the threads i already have). i’ve also beaten the weft in harder.

the next sample just needs hemstitching before i can cut it off the loom. something else i can look at is degumming before weaving. the degummed threads are really incredible and more than justify the work it takes to reel the silk, it may well be that weaving simply isn’t the best use of those magical qualities, at least on the equipment i have available.