Published: 22 October, 2010
by PETER GRUNER
A GIANT graffiti-style wall mural – painted by two artists on the famous Archway Tavern – is to be removed because it is considered “inappropriate” for the area.
Instead, Islington Council has asked the artists to replace their comic strip characters on the back of the pub with a new mural featuring Dick Whittington and his cat, characters associated with Highgate Hill.
The issue has sparked a furious “politically correct” row, with critics accusing the council of being art “dictators”.
The new mural has an added interest being directly opposite the popular Banksy wall painting, at the bottom of Highgate Hill, which shows Charles Manson dressed as a hitch-hiker.
Hospital specialist Paula Edwards wants to keep the new wall design. “I’m sick of Dick Whittington,” she said. “We have a hospital named after him, there’s a statue of his cat on the hill and Whittington Park has a floral cat.”
Labour councillor Janet Burgess said she hoped that the artists would meet Archway’s town manager to discuss the issue. She said: “The mural was not felt to be appropriate for the area or the best thing to see when you approach Archway. The wall has had something like 340 pieces of graffiti on it over the past four years. I realise that art is subjective but we would like to see something more representative of the area. Dick Whittington would be good but any new work should also say welcome to Islington.”
The idea for the current mural – inspired by the late New York comic strip artist, Vaughn Bodé – originated from the pub’s owner, who wanted to brighten up a brick wall.
French graphic artists Raphael Reynolds, 24, and his friend Ben “H”, 25, took almost three weeks to complete the work, balancing perilously on ladders 30 feet high. Two weeks ago, as reported in the Tribune, Raphael and Ben were putting in the final touches when they were ordered to stop by police, who were concerned that planning permission may not have been granted.
The artists contacted Islington’s conservation department, emailed drawings of the design, but heard no more until this week.
Ben “H” said he was disappointed at being asked to remove the mural but not surprised.
“A lot of impromptu work like this gets removed by councils. I thought the project would be fine because we had the permission of the owner of the Archway Tavern,” he said.
Lib Dem environment spokesman Cllr Arthur Graves said he liked the new design but wasn’t sure what it was meant to represent. “Perhaps the artists should work with the council and residents to find a design more acceptable to everyone.”
Stephanie Smith, founder of Archway market, said it was not the job of councils to be art curators. “How does the council know what is best for us and what we want to look at?” she said
• A colourful 30ft fountain of light is to be erected above Archway Tube station next month to encourage more people to visit the area. The Big Rock Candy Fountain by artist David Batchelor will be switched on by the singer Suggs on November 1 and will stay on until March 27 next year.