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Piecing it together: London’s top 10 murals

Posted at 10:15 am, March 24, 2013 in Arts & Entertainment

1. ‘The Spirit of Soho’ Carnaby St, W1 (above)
Media types stumbling out of a private club? An immaculate gay couple enjoying alfresco macchiatos? Nope. This 1991 mural on the corner of Carnaby and Broadwick Streets – by Free Form Arts Trust – focuses on St Anne, dedicatee of the nearby church. Her gaudy frock contains a veritable A to Z of Soho: fruit and veg, notable landmarks, and some famous locals standing at her feet. Oh, and a spliff-smoking hare rogering a dog.

2. ‘Agents of Change’ King’s Cross, NW1

Completed a couple of months before the Olympics, it took The Megaro Project 150 litres of paint and more than 450 spraycans to create this visual extravaganza on a dingy strip opposite King’s Cross station. From a distance, it looks a bit like an exploded London 2012 logo. Up close, this seriously impressive addition to an otherwise gloomy parade of grey masonry and burger bars means the south side of Euston Road can look the swankily refurbed St Pancras hotel in the eye.

3. Kilburn Tube Mural Kilburn, NW6
And the UK’s biggest ever graffiti commission celebrates… Kilburn High Road! All human life is here. So Signal Project artists Snug, Dane, Bleach, Busk and Tizer have included details of the thoroughfare’s origins and notorious locals. Spot Dick Turpin snoozing, characters from George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ debating under a tree and the Mother of Invention depicted with a three-wheeler pushchair: not a tribute to the yummy mummies of Queen’s Park, but a reference to the area’s most revered political campaigner, the Tricycle Theatre.

4. Untitled Peckham, SE15

Paris, New York… Peckham Rye. Belgium’s ROA is an internationally celebrated street artist whose detailed birds and beasts stand proudly on walls, crawl out of holes and curl their way around buildings from Brooklyn to Zaragoza. London’s East End enjoys the furry presence of his rabbits, but this bird perching on bones and skulls in south London is one of his more hidden treasures. Probably the best view of it is from the train into London Bridge.

5. ‘The Battle of Cable Street’ Shadwell, E1

When Oswald Mosely decided to march his fascist Blackshirts through the East End in 1936, the locals took umbrage – and bits of wood – and repulsed the bounders. What became known as the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ is remembered in this staggering mural by Dave Binnington, Desmond Rochfort, Paul Butler and Ray Walker, which took years to come to fruition and was completed in 1993. Despite several attacks of vandalism by extremist groups (possibly provoked by the image of Hitler in suspenders), the mural is in good shape. You’ll find it just north of St George-in-the-East.

6. ‘Riders of the Apocalypse’ New Cross, SE14
Rainbows and CND symbols float around this colourful mural by Brian Barnes at the north end of Coldblow Lane, depicting world leaders straddling nuclear missiles in flight, – a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War classic ‘Dr Strangelove’. Thatcher, Andropov and Reagan all appear in this 1983 work – with Maggie looking unusually leggy. Perhaps those public-school backbenchers were right all along.

7. ‘History of Somers Town’NW1

Two lefty London heroines star in this tribute to the local great and good: Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley feature, along with Charles Dickens, some modern landmarks and staff from the school where this mural was relocated after author Claire Tomalin helped save it. Karen Gregory’s 1984 work is more a nod to elegant mid-century British painting than transatlantic street art, and you can find it on Polygon Road.

8. Brick Lane Music Hall Mural Silvertown, E16
This charming painted street scene at the music hall on North Woolwich Road celebrates how the docks once looked, in the good/bad old days before interior designers had heard of east London. The pubs signs are real ones, fixed on to the painting.

9. ‘The History of the Old Kent Road’ SE1
Polish sculptor Adam Kossowski was best known for his works in churches. So it’s appropriate that the former North Peckham Civic Centre which houses his large ceramic mural (a secular depiction of local history) is now used as the Everlasting Arms Ministries church.

10. Untitled Fulham, SW6
Artist John Piper’s beautiful abstract mural was commissioned to adorn the North Thames Gas Board’s laboratory block. It’s now des-res flats called The Piper Building, and the stylish, 50-year-old work remains intact. English Heritage tried to get it listed in 1994 and failed. Thank goodness estate agents appreciate its value, cos the Department for Culture, Media and Sport didn’t.

‘British Murals and Decorative Painting 1910-1970’ is at the Fine Art Society Feb 13-Mar 9. See Time Out Listing. Like this? See London’s best Tube murals and mosaics.

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