A conference is taking place on 8 March to discuss the deterioration and loss of public art dotted around the UK. Organised by Alan Powers for The Twentieth Century Society, in association with the exhibition Mural and Decorative Painting 1920-1970 at the Fine Art Society, London, the conference reveals some of the hidden treasures of mural painting and decoration in Britain from the mid twentieth century, often neglected in terms of scholarship, awareness and conservation, and therefore frequently at risk of destruction. By a combination of recording and interpretation, and with the help of conservation pressure from official and independent bodies, the history of loss could be halted and the remaining works retained and valued as important contributions to the past and future of British art.
Many of the murals are situated in shopping centres and schools and it is claimed a number of Britain’s best loved murals are being allowed to disintegrate.The Twentieth Century Society has been campaigning to save artwork from the post-war building boom. “We are losing a whole chapter of our art history,” says campaign director, Catherine Croft. Ray Howard Jones’s An Eye For The People located on the Western Mail building in Bristol, has recently been destroyed. So too has Barbara Jones’s Adam Naming The Animals at Yewlands School in Sheffield. “We are knocking down a lot of the buildings on which these buildings were originally painted – a lot were in schools and the Rebuilding Schools Programme has demolished some,” Ms Croft says. “A lot were in local authority buildings, publicly funded buildings and with the recession there isn’t the money to keep them going – it’s a really difficult time for murals.”
Over a fifty year period some of Britain’s best known artists were commissioned to create murals for buildings, schools and public spaces. John Piper, Ben Nicholson, Graham Sunderland and Eric Ravilious were all paid to create public works of art. Many of these have now disappeared or are in immediate need of restoration.