Monday, December 03, 2012


When I was an art student a long time ago, inspired by early Italian frescoes and the carved walls of ancient Egypt, I thought I wanted to be a muralist. So I enrolled at the Instituto Allende in Mexico in order to learn mural techniques. The two photos below are from that time, described in my autobiography-in-progress (no progress! But I will get back to it, yes). 

Fresco study, NdA. Instituto Allende, Mexico.

La Despedida. NdA. Plaster bas-relief study. 3.25 x 2.5 meters. Instituto Allende, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Some time later, when I lived in Paraguay, I won a competition (scroll to the bottom of this page) to design and execute an abstract mural for a new hotel in Asunción. But it was not until the 1980s in London that an opportunity arose to really exercise my wall-painting inclinations. I happened to see a job advertisement to join a team of artists, organised by CSV (Community Service Volunteers) to paint murals for public locations in the borough of Camden. I was interviewed, accepted and began a thrilling, if ephemeral, adventure. Ephemeral for reasons I willl explain. 

There were seven of us, artists of various backgrounds, ages and experience but all keen to use our skills on a large scale. We discussed ideas and made general plans but each person was responsible for designing and executing different sections of some murals while in other projects only one artist was needed. This was an ideal situation since I prefer to work independently but also enjoy the camaraderie of a congenial group. 

On the façade of Godwin Court, a building on Crowndale Road near Mornington Crescent, my designated section was alongside the entrance to a mother-and-child clinic. I decided to paint it as though you were looking through the wall into the waiting room and reception area. I took photos and made a lot of preparatory drawings, transferred my final sketch to the rough brick wall and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of painting in the middle of a busy street, cars and buses whizzing past and curious pedestrians stopping by to chat. The other artists were busy on their own sections of the long wall but at lunchtime we would all go to the pub, like good workmen, and talk about art and life and all that jazz. It was the best job imaginable. 

Sadly, all that's left of this mural are the photos and slides I and other people took of it. This is not the age of sacred walls! The lovingly painted surfaces gradually became fair game for the aerosol and magic marker-wielding vandals of the neighbourhood and several years of this activity later, Camden Council decided to cover the entire façade with grafitti-proof gloss paint. None of us were ever consulted or told our work was being destroyed and there's no law that could have prevented it. Nevertheless I'm proud of this work and of the huge assignment I was offered next. 

The Hampden Community Centre off St. Pancras Road was a popular meeting place for local pensioners and teenagers and when the idea of a mural in the common room was suggested, the organisers embraced it enthusiastically. I was still part of the Mural Team but the other artists were busy in various locations and I was delighted to take on the 50' x 12' wall entirely on my own. The scale drawing I submitted was approved by a committee and I began working on the wall on Valentine's Day, February 14th, 1983. 

(to be continued tomorrow)



Dick said...

Wow, Natalie, this work is wonderful! There must be some wall acreage in Kentish Town and a spot of funding for something close to home!

Anonymous said...

Natalie, this is wonderful, fascinating stuff. Amazing to think Camden was so encouraging of mural art.

I'm finding the new blog good and user-friendly, by the way... shame you still can't comment direct as it's a bit of a fiddle to switch blogs to do so.

I need to pop round to buy some Christmas present books from you soon!

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dick, I'm afraid I'd be a lot less easygoing about it now, even if the wall spaces were available. I'd demand a huge fee, guarantees of permanence and inclusion in art history. And indoor work only!

Alison, whew, your comment showed up! Thank you.I've now eliminated the moderation system - let the spam come, I'll blitz it.
Of course you must come over.