It’s not every Saturday you get to wake up and do something exciting; and as different as helping paint a historic mural. But yes, when such weekends do come along, you realize that apart from doing something new and creative, you get to meet interesting people who are community oriented, passionate beyond working hours, and incredibly talented to boot.
So, yes, I did roll out of my North London bed to Brixton last Saturday and walked right down Lyham Road to a large expanse of very white wall. Covered as it then was with primer and stabilizer, nothing of the original mural could be seen. But I did get a sense that the new piece would be more magnificent, more participatory, and connect the people involved in ways so that its story could be told to a wider audience.
First up to say hello was the ever friendly Charlotte Bill of the Clapham Film Unit who are filming the restoration project for a documentary on Brixton’s murals. After a warm welcome she introduced me to Julian Phethean of Positive Arts, who was quick to get me started on the basics of spray painting.
However easy it seems to a novice eye, trust me – spray painting is so much harder than it looks. But Julian and his great team were ever so encouraging and reassured me that the mural was in no way at risk from my uneven spraying and rivulets of excess paint. And so I happily continued my attempts at looking both cool and trying to make an artistic impact. The fact that I was on the first level of the scaffolding made the former quite easy, but any kind of creative genius remained a distant dream.
More than my attempts at painting, what I did enjoy was the conversations I had with the people working on and around the mural. Speaking with Julian, James Titchner and Boyd Hill of Positive Arts gave me insight into how much they loved getting the community all geared up to paint. And it is this aspect that is most central to the work of Positive Arts; an organization that focuses on empowering and inspiring people by combining creativity with education in the form of art projects, workshops and school programmes
Filming alongside Positive Arts is the Clapham Film Unit which is a collective of film makers that aims to train and equip people to tell their own stories. Being able to make a film that has your voice and tells your perspective is an incredible gift. And here is a great group of people who do it well, and could also help you learn how to do it if you want.
And lastly you have the London Mural Preservation Society that has brought this project together. Run by the inspired Ruth Miller, it makes me want to get more to know more about murals and their history, where they came from, who funded them, and why they are so important. One would think these questions don’t matter so much, but they do in the long run. If by their very inconsequence, the restoration of the Brixton Windmill Mural had never begun, I would not have got involved and met these interesting people, and been hungrier still to find something I was really passionate about. My involvement might lead to other things, but if not, then at least I’ve found a fun way to keep me occupied for a few weekends. And if I do manage to spray a straight line by the end of it, I have a bedroom wall I want to try next!