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Three Murals… William Mitchell, Gordon Cullen & Dorothy Annan

February 13, 2012 8 comments

A trilogy of Murals today… Starting with my favourite artist, William Mitchell and his fantastic mural at the Three Tuns pub in Coventry.

Little A and I went on an explore of my home city over the Christmas holidays and as well as visiting the Herbert Art Gallery to see the very excellent George Shaw exhibition, we also took lots of photos of some lovley mid century stuff……

The mural is an incredible thing. It dates from 1966, is about 11m long by 4 m high and is full of amazingly rich textures and a truly astonishing depth of surface. The whole thing was cast in concrete with a pebble aggregate and is two sided, offering a less modelled, but equally impressive view on the inside. I actually used to go to this pub in the early 1980’s (not very often as it was a townies pub and I hung around with students). It’s an Indian restaurant now and the inside wall has been painted white.

Frustratingly and like so much of this great artist’s work, I can find little about it online, so what I obviously what I need to do as we are now in contact, is ask the man himself how he made it and then update this post once I’ve spoken to him…

Until then, here are some close ups of what the Listed Buildings website calls his “distinctive Aztec style”.

The future of this wonderful work is somewhat in doubt as I write this. As recently as last week, Coventry Council announced plans to redevelop the Bull Yard area of the precinct in which this (quite rightly and thankfully) Grade II listed mural can be found. The city’s website for the huge £300m project is here and a flickr site of images is here, but I wouldn’t bother too much. It’s all fairly standard developer stuff; bland and non location specific, promising blue skies, bright colours and smiling people, but in reality delivering the same old, same old…

Still I have it on pretty good authority that the mural will be saved and incorporated into the new scheme, maybe on an inside wall somewhere so it can avoid the worst of the Midlands weather.

Which brings me neatly onto the next mural that’s caught my eye recently, this marvellous wall of cermic colour by Gordon Cullen, which is also in Coventry. Cullen was an architect by training but was also a very gifted artist and is perhaps best remembered as one of the pioneers of Urban Design through his seminal 1961 book The Consise Townscape, in which he set out his thoughts on how the urban environment might be visually organised to achieve a better overall coherence.

This beautiful piece used to sit in a prominent position in the centre of Coventry’s main shopping precinct and I remember it well from my younger days.. So called improvements to the precinct in 2002 (i.e. squeezing more shops in) resulted in the mural being relocated to a rather austere corridor somewhere “round the back” and although I knew it had been moved and was looking for it, it was quite by chance that we actually came across it…

The mural was designed by Cullen in 1958 to illustrate the history and spirit of Coventry and its Citizens and was considered an important part of Donald Gibson’s recently completed City Centre rebuilding works. It was originally much larger than as shown above, but a sign nearby informed me that “careless workmanship in the 1970’s” (I can only imagine) lead to the destruction of panels that included medieval maps of the old city.

Still the panels that remain give a good idea of Cullens style with their bold shapes and bright colours, referencing the new city centre buildings (including Spence’s Cathedral), bicycles (which the city was famous for manufacturing) and dinosaurs (although to be honest, I’m not quite sure where they fit in)… Bizarrely, this work is currently not listed, however it appears to be safe enough for the time being in its new home.

Which brings me to the third mural, which I have known and wondered at for many, many years but which I only found out last week was finally (as recently as November of last year) given Grade II Listed status. I think we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Twentieth Century Society for its tireless work in ensuring our recent heritage has at least a fighting chance of survival…

The mural is to be found on the old telephone exchange building on Farringdon Road in Central London and comprises nine stunning, hand painted ceramic panels designed in 1960 by the little known artist Dorothy Anann.

Although the work is untitled, and there is precious little about her on the net, I gather that Annan set out to depict various aspects of the communications and telephone industry, relating the work very much to the idea of Harold Wilson’s “white heat of technology” in a series of wonderfully stylised and abstract panels that although rather weather worn and grubby, are still in surprisingly good condition.

Interestingly when I went to take some photos on a bitterly cold evening last week, I was stopped by two security guards in hi-viz jackets who told me in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to take photos as it was a dangerous structure and I was on private property. Quite how this can be when both the footpath and the mural have clearly been in the public domain for more than 60 years is beyond me…

It was only later that we realised that their attitude was probably to do with the activities of the Occupy Movment, and that they assumed I was casing this huge building with a view to sleeping in it…

The building was designed incidentally by Eric Bedford, the Chief Architect of the Post Office Tower, and like so many telephone exchanges across the country has been empty for many years and is facing almost certain demoltion, as unlike the mural, it was not thought worthy of Listing.

Let’s hope the developers honour the Grade II listing status of Dorothy Annan’s fabulous work however, and find it a new home that is both appropriate and publicly accessible.

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