West Hampstead mural compromise: Plan to rotate artwork pleases some, but concerns about about artist’s conviction remain
PUBLISHED: 10:45 17 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:44 17 June 2020
The mural featuring late West Hampstead bookseller John Henderson on the area’s Thameslink bridge has divided the community.
Two local Labour councillors have come up with a compromise – but though the artist who came up with the mural is satisfied, a number of people remain unconvinced, objecting to the involvement of one of a street artist.
The agreement, authored by Cllrs Peter Taheri and Shiva Tiwari (both Lab, West Hampstead) is, they said, designed to build a consensus over the mural’s future.
It will now only be the first of many art installations to take pride of place on the bridge, with a “new, apolitical” local panel – including the Through Arts We Rise group set up by Alketa Xhafa Mripa – convening to commission artworks.
READ MORE: West Hampstead mural: Network Rail ask artist to remove lettering on controversial Thameslink Bridge street art
The current design, with images of Mr Henderson and two homeless individuals on one side and “Through Arts We Rise” lettering on the other, will remain for a “fixed period” pending the anticipated resolution of a planning issue – as advertising on the bridge is not allowed without council consent.
The involvement of street artist Benjamin Flynn - known professionally as Ben Eine – in painting the lettering has upset community groups.
Mr Flynn was convicted of assault by beating over an incident in which he was said to have attacked his then-girlfriend at the Serpentine Gallery.
He has not responded to this newspaper’s request for comment.
A group of West Hampstead women said they were “uncomfortable” with Mr Flynn’s involvement and told this newspaper they had “come together to object about the use of the artist, who has a conviction for assaulting a woman”.
Saying some of the group had ”suffered the terrors and harm that comes from domestic abuse”, they added “leaving the art on the bridge as a reminder to us of the suffering and hurt we have endured”.
In a statement the Labour councillors said: “We have been focused on the importance as councillors of listening to and serving the local community and creating a space for conversation and the reaching of a consensus when – as here – local views are divided.
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“We appreciate that through the subjective medium of art, this project sought to create something beautiful with a powerful message inspiring positivity compassion and solidarity.
“We also appreciate the local community should have a say in how their public spaces should look, which of many worthy causes are promoted, and also by whom.”
Earlier this month Network Rail confirmed it had asked Through Arts We Rise to alter the lettering as this was thought to breach planning rules.
It is understood that the organisation plans to change its name to make clear the lettering is not an advert.
After some called for the mural to be removed, a petition gathered thousands of signatures in favour of it staying – but locals complained many of those signing it were not from West Hampstead.
Ian Cohen and David Brescia, both former Conservative council candidates in NW6, said: “There is merit in the idea of a rotation of artwork, as long as it is legal, does not surrender public control over future advertising on the site, and is what a majority of residents want.”
Ms Mripa said: “We have agreed a way forward that is the best for the community.
”I am really happy with the outcome of the bridge to become an open gallery and give Voice to the Voiceless by raising awareness about social injustices together with West Hampstead community.”
In May, Ms Mripa said: “The goal is to bring together socially engaging creative people through arts in raising awareness and supporting human rights issues and community values. Amongst some of the subjects that we will be dealing with are homelessness, mental health, migration, and gender equality.”
It is understood the Through Arts We Rise group was unaware of Mr Flynn’s conviction prior to the artwork being created, while others in favour of the mural’s lettering have said Mr Flynn’s rehabilitation should be considered.
A number of separate billboards created by Mr Eine have been removed after being defaced with references to his conviction.
A Network Rail spokesperson said they had bee made aware of the situation, and did not know this at the time as they had dealth with the arts group. They added: “We are sorry that the recently installed mural on a railway bridge near West Hampstead Thameslink station has had a mixed reception from residents in the area.
“We are committed to working with Camden Council to find a suitable solution and we are looking at the possibility of having the artwork on the bridge changed every year. Any art which is installed in the future will be consulted with the community before it is installed.”
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