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Musing on murals

It’s strange how often themes seem to come along in waves.

Like buses, you won’t have thought of a topic or a person for an age, and then suddenly you’ll get three references to it - or them - in quick succession.

So it was for me with murals, recently. The first instance was a couple of weeks ago when I was walking through the back streets of Battersea, cutting through from Queenstown Road to Latchmere Road, and I stumbled across a stunning three storey Brian Barnes mural on the side of a pub. Then, later that same day, I received an email from a colleague about the new David Bowie mural in Brixton. And finally, at a party that night in Battersea, I met a young artist who is trying get permission to paint a mural depicting the area - its shops, people and character - on a wall on Northcote Road.

As I left the party that night, I wondered if my experience that day reflected a wider increase in interest in murals. When I wrote the feature on Brian Barnes last year, there was a definite sense that the mural was an art form that had had its heyday back in the 70s and 80s, and wasn’t for the 21st century. For some people, murals are still associated with graffiti and not something to be embraced and encouraged.

But looking at Brian Barnes’ panoramic of south west London on the wall of that pub, with the vivid colours jumping off the wall and how he’d managed to capture a sense of joy and celebration, I wondered if this wasn’t how public art should be: accessible, impactful, enjoyable and capable of evoking feelings. So, I hope that the councillors, planners, residents and whoever else is consulted about this new mural on Northcote Road, come together to back this plan. Brian Barnes started painting murals in south west London some 40 years ago, and perhaps it’s time for a next generation to take up the torch.

Have a wonderful May.

Jon Watt is editor-at-large of the Clapham & Battersea and Fulham editions of Time & Leisure Magazine.