Unseen London by Johanna Lee

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.

About londonmuralpreservationsociety

The London Mural Preservation Society aims to bring murals created over the last 40 years back into the attention of the people of London and out further afield into the rest of the UK and the world.
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3 Responses to Unseen London by Johanna Lee

  1. James Thatcher says:

    Managed to locate a lovely copy (Paperback) of the Ray Walker Exhibition held at the Royal Festival Hall 17 May-16 June 1985 which is out of print. http://www.flickr.com/photos/60718029@N06/5695980942/

    I initially tried the Tower Hamlets Archive web site (Ruths kind Suggestion), which lists 2 copies available, but when i contacted the Archive by phone no copies were available. Amazon search produced 1 copy held by Colin Martin Books for £14.
    This book contains great narrative and an insight into Ray Walkers art by Rays family & friends.
    The books artwork is in B/W and colour detailing Rays work from 1966 through to his untimely death in May 1984.
    I have uploaded (Flickr) images from the book, as after many a fruitless search the internet provided very little imagery of Ray Walkers work.
    A big thank you to all those responsible for the production of the book, it now occupies a pride of place on my book self as well as in my heart:

    Peasants Revolt 1981
    Detail of Peasants Revolt Mural
    Sketch for Peasants Revolt 1981 Ink and Water colour on paper 1981

    Newham Hospital Panel sketches 1982
    Newham Hospital Panel 1
    Newham Hospital Panel 2

    New Whittington Hospital legend of Dick Whittington and His Cat
    New Whittington Hospital Triptych  Legend of Dick Whittington & his Cat 11
    New Whittington Hospital Triptych  Legend of Dick Whittington & his Cat `2
    New Whittington Hospital Triptych  Legend of Dick Whittington & his Cat  3

    Battle of Cable Street sketches & Mural 1982
    Sketch of Cable Street  Mural 1982
    Battle of Cable Steet Mural 1982-1983 version 2

    Chicksand Street Mural 1979-1980
    Ray Walker on tower Painting Chicksand Street Mural 1980
    Chicksand Street Mural 1979-80
    Sketch for Chicksand Street Mural Design 1979 Charcol on Paper
    Sketches for Chicksand Street Mural Portraits 1979 Charcol on Paper 1
    Sketches for Chicksand Street Mural Portraits 1979 Charcol on Paper 2

    Desolation Row Poplar 1977
    Desolation Row Poplar 1977

    Desolation Row 1973
    Desolation Row 1973

    The Dispossessed 1975
    The Dispossessed 1975

    Anna (Walker) Pregnant 1975
    Anna  Walker Pregnant Denmark Hill 1975

    Army Recruitment Triptych 1981 (Imperial War Museum)
    Army RecruitmentTriptych 1981 Imperial War Museum 3
    Army RecruitmentTriptych 1981 Imperial War Museum 2
    Army RecruitmentTriptych 1981 Imperial War Museum 1

    Hackney Peace Mural sketch 1983
    Sketch of Hackney Peace Mural 1983 Pencil on Paper
    Sketch of Hackney Peace Mural 1983
    Sketch of the Hackney Peace Mural 1983

  2. Pingback: Away on holiday! Ancient Mosaics Abroad and Mosaic Murals in London | London Mural Preservation Society's Blog

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