Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Fitzrovia's fading mural

Half way down Tottenham Court Road is a gap in the shops, an open space called  Whitfield Gardens. It was once a burial ground, and then made into a public park in 1895. In 1945 a German bomb flattened the Georgian houses that separated it from Tottenham Court Road, making the larger space that exists now. All very typical of London: what's left is an accident of circumstances, an odd space  with the single surviving building sitting isolated in the middle of an expanse of concrete paving.
And dominating that space is the 1980 Fitzrovia Mural, faded and peeling, and covered in graffiti as high up as the spray-can artists can reach. People are quite attached to this mural. There was a fashion for murals at that point in history, and this one was commissioned by Camden Council, who own the building it is painted on. The Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association are campaigning to get it restored, although realistically they admit the wall would have to be repaired first, so the whole thing would actually need to be re-painted from scratch. Some of the subjects are local characters of the time, perhaps not all of them forgotten. There are some nice touches with contemporary relevance: the cigarette advertisement featuring a death's head, the machines spewing out bills and final demands, and of course the developer's crane towering over everything else. Even so, it doesn't have the historic value of the Cable Street Anti-Fascist mural or the Hackney Peace Carnival mural, both in much better condition.

Like the 1960 BT Tower behind it, it's past its best and not that relevant any more. The tower recently lost all the satellite dishes which is what it was for in the first place, removed for 'safety reasons' which will inevitably make space for more advertising, but as an iconic landmark there's a lot of life left in it yet (the photo at the top of this blog shows how it used to be). That painted end wall is just paint, and maybe it's time to treat it as the ephemeral statement it was intended to be. Maybe it's time to make a fresh start with some imaginative, good quality landscaping and some artwork relevant to the twenty-first century.

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