Painting the Town

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Tate Gallery Coffee Shop Gallery 13th January- 43 March 1981

Tate Archive Leaflet - Painting the Town Modern Murals in Britain

This archive exhibition at the Tate Gallery records the recent emergence in the British Isles of outdoor paintings. The examples chosen show a popular art form indigenous to urban life, which ranges from the decoration of housefronts to the most elaborate public murals. The uniqueness of recent wall paintings is that not only are they done by artists for the public, but often they are done by, or with the assistance of, the untrained public themselves. Due to the diversity of settings, funds, skills and traditions, an enormous variety of work exists and we hope this exhibition will encourage more people to contribute to communities and environments of the future.

The oldest surviving exterior. wall paintings in the country are the 'King Billy' paintings in the protestant districts of Northern Ireland, which go back to the early days of this century. Like many examples in this exhibition, they were painted on the blank gable end walls of 19th century terraced houses. Unlike the King Billys, however, which were painted as patriotic shrines, most recent mural activities have their origins in the street art that emerged in the wake of pop art, graffiti and the radical spirit of the late 1960s.

One of the earliest of these paintings, the Beatles Apple shop mural, was obliterated soon after completion because of the hostility from Londoners, who felt such colourful exuberance lowered the tone of the area. Like the sixties generation rebelling against the austerity of the post war urban environment, today's muralists are attempting to elevate depressed inner l>wn districts.

Unlike earlier sporadic murals on prestigious buildings such as office blocks and banks, these full-blooded paintings developed on the walls of ordinary people's houses. Street murals have flourished often with the help of local people and independently of official art institutions. They are no longer murals designed only as a fine art decoration, but are a more direct reaction against the uniformity, lack of imagination or downright ugliness of modern cities. They have appeared in those places scarred by the Industrial Revolution and planning blight - those areas which have suffered the most usually by neglect in the present social and economic climate.

This exhibition includes at one extreme work executed illegally and therefore quickly, and at the other the commissioned workof official 'Town Artists.'. It also shows wall paintings by children, community groups and individual houseowners. Most of the schemes chosen include attempts to:
1. brighten up a squalid place
2. to communicate a visual statement to the local people
3. to build up a dialogue between the artist and the community
4. to encourage a sense of community and orientation within the locality
5. to bring colour and craftsmanship back into the built environment
6. to encourage self-help - allow those with normally little access to the act or creativity an opportunity to express themselv~s
7.to expand the role of the artist beyond the limits' of the art gallery system
8. to re-introduce painting to architecture

There are, of course, a divergence of opinions among artists and their critics about the purposes and values of this work. Some worry about the temporary nature of these murals which are always at the mercy of the elements, the demolition gangs and the local sloganeers.

We hope this exhibition demonstrates the effect that outside painting has on the environment, and that people responsible for the urban wastelands will take note and assess positively the achievements of this art form.

Evening Lecture Wednesday 27 January at 6.30pm in the Lecture Room Admission free Directions in British and European Mural Painting by Graham Cooper A look at current practice and possible future trends.

 

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