Artist Daniel McCarthy takes a drawing of pink flowers from a little girl and picks up his paint brush. “I’m going to paint your flowers on this mural so when you see them you can say: ‘I drew that’,” he smiles.
The mural in question is about to turn the drab Jubilee Bridge in Croydon into a vibrant and colourful artwork, filled with the imaginations of a community. The little girl is delighted.
Between now and 26 October, art-lovers are being invited to produce works for McCarthy, a 29-year-old London-based artist and graduate from The Royal Drawing School, to incorporate in the 18m long mural.
“I’ve been painting on my own for ten years now,” says Daniel. “It’s nice to be doing something different for a community instead.” He shows me a picture of Jubilee Bridge, “The mural is going to be this long and thin, which is going to be quite a tricky format.”
The main reason for the community project is to reinvigorate the area, which had been badly hit by the 2011 riots. A public workshop was held at the TURF gallery, located on Keeley Road in East Croydon, to develop the designs and ideas through the collaboration of the community and an artist.
It is dark inside the gallery when I finally manage to locate the designated workshop venue, making me doubt that there is going to be any workshop at all. However, there are movements inside and I finally make my way across the road to enter the building. Greeting me with smiles on their faces are Daniel and Alice Cretney, founder of the gallery.
There is a wooden board pinned with paintings from the gallery’s project and the walls are decorated with photographs. TURF gallery isn’t big, but it’s cozy and radiates a friendly atmosphere that isn’t intimidating to people who are’t artists, like me.
A few minutes pass by and a couple of teenage girls come into the gallery. They join us and Daniel starts explaining about his ideas for the mural.
“Do you know what Croydon means? he asks. “Apparently, it means ‘crocus valley’ in Anglo-Saxon. So I’m going to have all of you draw me a crocus, or something else that says what Croydon means to you.”
People start to trickle into the gallery until the long table is fully seated. There are elderlies, families, students, and other locals who want to be involved with designing the mural. As the gallery is full of enthusiastic discussions, Maia Tarling-Hunter, the leader of Pocket Places Croydon project which commissioned the mural, comes into the gallery.
Maia sits next to me and explains about Pocket Places Croydon: “I work for Sustrans, a charity organisation working with Croydon Council. We work to improve the environment to make it more enjoyable, particularly to walk and cycle in. People liked the paintings on the underpass and want to extend it to the sides of the bridge. Today is a practical activity to expand on the ideas that we’ve gathered so far.”
After Daniel finishes with his presentation, which has convinced everyone that murals could surprisingly liven up a dull area, people begin exchanging ideas. Some seem happy with the ideas of crocus, a few people suggest drawing the history of Croydon, and an elementary school girl has even finished drawing her suggestion on a piece of paper.
“Clearly we need a pink My Little Pony in the mural,” her mother laughs as she shows the picture around.
Everyone begins drawing. Daniel lays out a roll of paper which is roughly in the same shape of the mural on the floor. I stand at the sides, interested in joining the fun but hesitating, as all the space is already filled, mostly with kids lying down on their stomachs and drawing whatever they fancy.
“Do you want to do some drawings? You look like you do,” Daniel asks me after he’s made his way around, checking what people have drawn. I politely refuse, but after watching a couple of little girls drawing their hearts out until their hands are covered with an unrecognisable mess of colours, I sit down next to them and grab some felt pens, feeling like a child myself.
There is a tram at the very end of the paper, followed with pink horses, crocuses, and flowers. I ask the little girl next to me if she needs my help. “Could you draw some flowers to make the garden look nice. And a house here, with a pretty roof,” she says. I draw some flowers and a house with a crooked roof, and she fills in the colours with crayons.
The final product looks like a series of drawings done by different people, but it is all drawn with one thought in mind: what Croydon means for them. For some, Croydon is the home of trams, others appreciate the meaning of crocus valley, and for the little girls it means seeing the flowers they have drawn as part of the Jubilee Bridge mural.
Daniel and Maia are clearly satisfied as they look at the long drawing. “It’s looking great,” says Daniel, “I’m going to incorporate everything that’s been drawn today into the actual mural.” The Jubilee Bridge mural has been truly thought out by the people and for the people of Croydon.