28 August 2016

Six shades of grey

The new William Morris mural is on the end wall of a house facing the car park at Lloyd Park, which is about as close as you can get to the man's former home without actually painting the William Morris Gallery itself. It makes for a colourful juxtaposition with the Hindu temple across the road, especially since their gold chariot was parked outside on the occasion when I visited. Morris is high enough off the ground that you can see his whole face and beard above the parked cars.

The mural is by local artist and Wood Street Walls co-founder Atma. Like many graffiti/mural artists he likes to maintain a semi-anonymous public persona, but he has painted plenty in the public realm, including the the mural on West Avenue bridge in Walthamstow. Atma is the Sanskrit word for ‘Soul’, in case you wondered. The design is based on one of the best-known photographs of William Morris, taken in 1880 by Abel Lewis, a commercial photographer working on the Isle of Man at the time.

The portrait is almost photorealistic, although when you get close up you can see it is done with half a dozen shades of grey, each colour neatly picked out in jagged areas of flat colour that have an abstract quality, like a camouflage pattern - or like paint-by-numbers I suppose, a poster-like quality rather than smooth airbrush painting. I missed seeing the work in progress and can only guess how the artist drew up the outlines. A projector would be the easiest way, but there was scaffolding in place the whole time, so probably he made a full size drawing in sections, to trace directly onto the wall. Confusingly, his website shows him with another huge portrait of Morris laid out on his studio floor, perhaps a version rejected in favour of this one. The background is based on the Willow Bough wallpaper design, a well-known favourite which you can still buy from John Lewis. There was an online poll to choose the backgrounds, but it’s pleasingly deconstructed, not just a replica of the repeating wallpaper pattern.

More about the background on Wood Street Walls Facebook page