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English Living

      Interview

Brian Barnes MBE

By Kevin Murphy

I first met Brian Barnes MBE in 2004 for the filming of my documentary, the first of four, about the plight of the iconic property Battersea Power Station (BPS) designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who also designed the infamous red phone boxes. I had discovered that the building was on the global watch list by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) for preservation. The building had been idle for many years while various attempts were made to redevelop the site but with no success. Upon enquiring with the London office of WMF I was referred to Barnes for the first film project.

Brian and his architect friend Keith Garner had formed the Battersea Power Station Community Group in 1983 when the power station was decommissioned to help bring awareness to the buildings situation and rather than have the redevelopment be just another expensive London spot he envisioned the building to be used for more local public needs. Like Barnes and Garner I also wanted the building to be saved for the same reasons.  

Brian Barnes MBE at Battersea Power Station, London 2011

By 2012 the 42-acre Power Station site would be sold to SP Setia, Sime Darby and the Employees’ Pension Fund of Malaysia for £400 million with plans for construction of 866 apartment homes and retail units. The price tag for the redevelopment was £8 billion.

In the end Barnes was correct when it came to the future of the BPS and it becoming another prime real estate hotspot with Foxton's currently showing average home prices at BPS ranging from £544,984 to £1,037,500 perhaps not super expensive by London home prices standards but still out of reach for the many of the locals in need of affordable housing. There was a time when the BPS was almost completely visible when entering or exiting Victoria Station by rail but today is surrounded by multi-story apartment towers. The building itself will have as one of its main occupants Apple Computer.

But there is more to the story than Battersea Power Station when it comes to Barnes. He is also known in the south London community for his incredible artwork with his murals. Brian studied at Ravensbourne College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art and while living in Battersea, South London started his well known mural paintings. Eventually Barnes became a printmaker and got involved in the Battersea community issues.

One well known mural painted in 1976 is 'The Battersea Mural” sometimes called ”Morgan’s Wall” at Battersea Bridge Road and then collaboratively painted with a group of local residents from 1976 through 1978.

The Battersea Mural

The  276 foot wide mural would be demolished in 1979 by the Morgan Crucible Company.

'We painted a facsimile on hard board over the next 6 years to recreate 2/3rds.'

Nuclear Dawn

One of Barnes's most notable murals is Nuclear Dawn which after so many years is now going to be restored. The painting began in 1980 on a large wall at the Carlton Mansions, south London. 

 

A petition was launched in 2013 by the London Mural Preservation Society (LMPS)  for the mural to be listed as an important artwork so as for it not to face demolition. Over a thousand people signed on to the petition and an effort was made to have it listed by English Heritage. At the time the mural was not deemed to be at risk of being demolished so the listing did not occur and while locally listed the English Heritage approval would have made any future demolition difficult.  In September 2014 the Carlton Mansions no longer had any residents with fears the building could become unusable to be saved or perhaps be lost to fire.

'Nuclear Dawn Mural became the example that convinced the GLC Greater London Council to fund 6 murals around London with a group London Muralists for Peace.'

Several of the murals are to be restored and Barnes told me recently:

'This is Nuclear Dawn in Brixton south London which Morgan Paton, Paul Butler and I are going to repair.'

'We hope to bring it back to this.'

 

'We hope it will be done in February weather and Corona virus permitting.'

Stockwell Memorial Gardens

One other mural by Brian Barnes MBE is in Brixton, London located in the middle of the Stockwell roundabout, Stockwell Memorial Gardens. At the conclusion of World War I a memorial was built and after World War II a series of deep shelters were with an opening showing in the middle of the gardens. The mural was painted on the top of the shelter in two parts starting in 1999 by Barnes and Myra Harris and reflected the images chosen by the children of Stockwell Park School and features elements of the local history.

                                                                         

                                                                           London Mural Preservation Society

The images for phase one are described by the London Mural Preservation Society:

'There is a picture of James Bond, a reference to the fact that actor, Roger Moore, who played Bond in seven of the movies, grew up in Stockwell. Artist, Vincent Van Gogh is included as he spent six months living in the area. There is a picture of the MV Empire Windrush boat; many of the people who came to the UK on this boat settled in the area. A London Underground tube train also features on the mural as Stockwell is one of the earliest tube stations. These ideas were bought together into a unified design.'

Phase two for the mural featured Stockwell resident and war hero Violette Szabo painted by Brian Barnes. On the 26th of June 2001 the mural opened by the daughter of Szabo, Tania and by English stage, screen actress, author and wildlife campaigner Virginia McKenna who played the role of Violette Szabo in the movie "Carve her name with pride”.

 

In 2007 the mural received additional attention when a picture of Jean Charles De Menezes was included to the mural. Mistaken by police as a possible terrorist De Menezes was shot in the Stockwell Tube station and died. However objections were raised to this addition and the image was eventually painted out as locals said it should not have been included in a war memorial.

Not surprisingly after so many years since the mural appeared the colors had been fading and some of the paint was peeling off. Barnes tells us however:

'It’s nearly ten years since the mural first appeared and the sun has faded the fresh

colours...'

'We have restored it twice since I first painted it in 2000 most recent in 2014.'

   Earlier paintings by Barnes include 'Capital Venture Day in Battersea Park'

Seaside Picture:  'All though renovated it was eventually demolished following a fire in the empty house for the yellow bricks the house was made of.'

'H.G. Wells mural replaced with one to Charles Darwin by another artist because the plaster was falling from the wall. Later I did a tableau of Darwin on Chesterton Mural.'

'I helped Morgan to paint the façade of Chelsea Arts Club with a Fennec Fox on a bike, Cacti and snakes.'

2004: 'I went to Springfield hospital for the first time to paint a mural with young people and teacher Shaun Dodds

Springfield.'

'Springfield Hospital murals that also involved teaching and visiting art galleries with the young ones, Tate Modern, National Gallery, Courtauld Institute, Dulwich Gallery.'

The Carey Gardens Estate Mural 

This is a very special mural by Barnes as it has all matter of symbolism for Battersea with its hourglass representing that time was running out for the area as new construction and changes were coming to the neighbourhoods. The image of the Battersea Power Station can be seen in the top glass in the sand, an Eagle representing Americas new embassy coming to Nine Elms in Battersea, A man in a white coat with a stop sign reminiscent of Keith Moon, drummer for The Who and his local campaign for school walkway for children and in the right hand corner. (Photos by InspiringCity.com)

It should not be surprising that in 2005 Brian Barnes was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) at Buckingham Palace for his services to the community in Battersea, London and deservedly so. 

Brian Barnes receiving his MBE from HM the Queen in 2005

                   The Queen said “you jolly up London”

For More about Brian Barnes MBE and    Battersea Power Station please visit:

                batterseafiles.co.uk

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