Swindon was once famous for its murals and attracted visitors to the town from far and wide. But that was 20 to 30 years ago. They’ve been painted over, buildings have been demolished or the last remnants have been allowed to decay.
They told fascinating stories about the town, but they fell out of favour with Swindon Council, who commissioned many of them, and the impetus for these remarkable artistic expressions disappeared and now do not feature in the town centre regeneration plans.
However artist Ken White from Old Town, who created many of Swindon’s outoor artworks, has been kept busy over the years painting murals in restaurants, Virgin Megastores and for Sir Richard Branson.
His most recent commission was a side of a house, in the Canadian town of Sussex in New Brunswick on the east side of the country, right, one of 11 created by renowed muralists. “I submitted a proposal after I discovered on the internet that the town wanted to do more to attract visitors by making an outdoor art gallery,” said Ken. “I sent photos of my work and they asked me to recreate the Sussex Vale Exhibition Building which was built there in 1861 but was demolished a year later.”
The work took him a month with a couple of days rain interruption. The project organisers are so pleased with Ken’s work that they might be asking him to return to take part in the second phase of the project next summer.
Ken’s work is also a tourist attraction in Invergordon, Scotland. “Murals make a real difference to the towns. People visit, spend money and use other facilities. As a result more shops and restaurants open up. There are dozens of mural towns across Canada; you can see a map on the internet.”
However Ken, modestly, is unsure how effective the return of murals to the Swindon scene would be. “When I did them here in the 70s it brightened the place up a lot. The murals in Canada and Scotland certainly do that. But those towns don?t have the range of attractions that we have, so I?m not sure how much of a tourist attraction they would be here.
“But I’d like to re-do the Golden Lion mural; it’s faded so much that it’s almost unrecognisable. Lots of people have said how sad they are about its condition.”
The Golden Lion mural painted by Ken in 1976, restored in 1985. It has faded a great deal more since this picture was taken in 2003.