It’s true to say that, in life, you don’t know what’s around the corner. It’s also true to say that you don’t always see what’s around the corner, even if it’s staring you right in the face.
I was aware of the Brixton mural “Nuclear Dawn” without even realising what it was after I lent my dulcet tones to my sister’s animation. In part of her film, the skeleton in the picture comes to life and looms large to a small child. Fantastic animation, but it was only when talking to one of my other sisters that I realised the real significance: that it actually existed.
My other sister was visiting after too long a break and was telling me about her organised walks round Brixton to see the area’s murals, showed me pictures online and the connection was made. The more she talked, the more I started to become fascinated myself.
Murals are everywhere on London’s walls, from the old fashioned trader’s adverts, crumbling and barely legible any more, to the large scale, ambitious works of art, some old, some fresh and modern. It was the latter we were seeking out. Most of them have been commissioned pieces, painted plaster or mosaics from the 70’s and 80’s as well as more recent additions, each with a story behind it, compellingly telling a secret tale of time and place, community and artist. Many feature real, local residents or revered figures from the time they were painted. Some have the artists themselves painted in self portrait among the collage of images, creating a snap shot of memory – not so much fifteen minutes of fame as fifteen years and counting. Sadly most murals are now fading from exposure to sunlight and the elements and are badly in need of restoration. Many don’t even exist any more as buildings are demolished – Nuclear Dawn may soon be the next to be destroyed if the developers get their way. I offered my car and my driving services to her for an afternoon to try and scout out more murals for a North London walk.
I could not have anticipated the treasure hunt that we would end up on, driving pretty much blindly from place to place with only a rough idea of the murals’ locations. Every one brought the joy of discovery and I think we found about eight in the end, travelling from the Broadwater Farm Estate, to Alexandra Palace, to Dalston, to Highbury (including an ill advised drive past the Emirates just before a game in my Spurs sweatshirt… just don’t make eye contact… don’t make eye contact) but I think my favourite was probably the last. It was a picture of a willow tree that was made from fragments of mirror with the background painted in. We got there at just the right time of day, and the hundreds of silver pieces were literally flashing in the afternoon sun.
It made me think about how I would probably like to walk past that every day, and from there, to how these works of art, these enormous labours of love must make an equally large difference to the lives passing by around them.
I find that my eyes are drawn to the sides of buildings more often as I drive around and I always, always look right now when I’m going up the A10 home through Kingsland to see the Hackney Peace Carnival mural. It always, always makes me smile.
So basically, you never know what’s round the corner, but it’s always worth taking a look. It’s amazing what you might find.