As London moves into its second lockdown, galleries and museums have been forced to close, with artists separated from their studios and upcoming shows curtailed or postponed. It’s a difficult time for everyone, and the arts have been hit hard, reinforced by “retraining” campaigns peddled by local government. But there’s still one safe practice left, paving the streets and the walls with work that can still be seen by all: public art.
For Thamesmead resident Paige Denham, the opportunity to create a large scale mural across the street from her childhood home was more than a chance to keep doing what she loves. Moniker Projects was commissioned by Peabody to curate and produce this series of murals along the canals, reflecting the abundance of the areas flora and fauna – and Denham’s pitch won the open call application. “This has been a goal of mine to do something like this,” the 24 year old textile designer told us. “I’m the biggest fan of Camille Walala and since visiting her Walala X Play exhibition in 2017, it’s been my dream to make work in that kind of scale, to feel immersed in colour and pattern.”
“Just before applying to this open call, the Walala Parade was revealed in Leyton, the day I was visiting… I really felt like this was a sign, like Camille telling me to apply for the open call.” So she did. And her pitch won against stiff competition from a wealth of local talent, and with it she secured the wall space in her own backyard. It’s a proper hometown hero type of story, and a break many artists could use in times like these. “I wasn’t able to attend the studio during lockdown, and found adapting to working back at home in the shed a real challenge. My productivity definitely suffered.”
The weight of the moment hasn’t held her back though. Four days in and the mural’s nearly done, just in time to greet her neighbors on their daily, government sanctioned exercise. “I think that putting art in public spaces allows everyone to have an opinion on it – even a negative one is welcome in my eyes. It helps to blur the line when it comes to availability, because even when they’re open, for many, the fees to see an exhibition or a gallery just aren’t viable or a priority. Why not put it in front of people, for free, so that everyone has the opportunity to see, learn, and be inspired?”
Now, Denham can check that goal off her list. With the second lockdown officially kicked off with no real end in sight, it’s not clear when she’ll be able to return to her studio again – but the mural she’s just completed for the Thamesmead Canal Mural Programme is one work that is fixed, free, and here to stay.