Images showing how one of the largest and best known murals in London would look like after its restoration are to go on display in an exhibition this month.
The Fitzrovia Mural, painted in 1980 by London-based artists Simon Barber and Mick Jones, was commissioned by Camden Council and created in consultation with the local community. The mural covers the entire side of a building on Tottenham Street and faces Whitfield Gardens, on Tottenham Court Road. It is one of the largest and most popular pieces of outdoor art in London.
The artwork, painted in the style of Mexican artist Diego Rivera, is a colourful depiction of people living and working in the neighbourhood and a playful satire poking fun at property developers, planners, and the drudgery of modern office work.
But over the years its bold colours have faded with the ravages of wind, rain and sunlight, while the lower part of the mural has been defaced with graffiti.
Jones recalled how he and Simon Barber went about creating the artwork.
“In close consultation with local people we took inspiration from local life: newsagent workers, a butcher, builders, office workers, nurses, a pub and local school children all found their way into the composition.
“The skyline reflects the speculative building of the time (which continues today), the young boy hemmed in behind a fence is a comment on the lack of open spaces and amenities in the area and so on.
“We developed a kind of highly figurative, narrative cartoon style which contains humour and hopefully wit as a way of highlighting the themes and issues,” he said.
But sadly Jones died two years later and plans for the restoration stalled because of problems with securing the funding to carry out the work.
Artist Kristina O’Donnell was leading the project with the help of the London Mural Preservation Society and she told Fitzrovia News how the mural has a special significance for her.
“The two quarrelling figures in the centre of the painting are my father and uncle, who worked in the newsagent adjacent to the mural in the 1980s. But graffiti now masks their section of the painting and it would be wonderful if we could restore the mural to bring all the characters back to life,” she said.
Now Camden Council has committed the money to restore the mural as part of the planned regeneration of the Tottenham Court Road area, know as the Camden West End Project, leading up to the opening of Crossrail in 2018.
The restoration is part of a wider project — Fitzrovia Mural: Restoration in the heart of London — that aims to raise awareness of the mural within the community, linked to a series of fundraising initiatives. The project has been supported by the Fitzrovia Centre in Foley Street, and funds raised from the project will be used by the Centre to support a series of legacy projects focused on local art, culture and heritage.
Ahead of the restoration, the exhibition showcases a selection of high-resolution photographs taken by Nigel Moore to make an accurate record of the mural and to create a grid to guide the restoration process.
The photographs reveal the mural’s full diversity, its artistic quality and intricate detail. Moore has lightly processed the images in order to emphasise the mural’s vivid colours and to improve contrast. The results create an impression of how the mural will appear once it is physically restored and reinforce the value of bringing this important piece of art back to life.
“Arup firmly believes in engaging with the communities where we are based, as well as recognising the value of a long term perspective: Fitzrovia has been a home to us since 1950, when Ove Arup moved offices here from Soho,” says Martin Ansley-Young, Arup Group Company Secretary.
“The planned restoration of the Fitzrovia Mural — an embodiment of local engagement in both concept and content — and the Fitzrovia Centre’s fundraising, to invest in projects for the community, are both great examples that we are proud to support,” he said.
The Fitzrovia Mural, 15 January to 11 March 2016 at Arup, 8 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 4BJ. Exhibition opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm. A booklet about the mural is available at the exhibition.