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A new arts mural for Guildford
25 Jan 2023
A mural at Guildford station brings messages of local pride to commuters – and it couldn’t have been made without the support of the local Arts Society. Anna Lambert explores its making
Public art: from Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North to the changing installations on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, if we’ve encountered it, we’ll have a reaction to it. And even if those reactions differ, what we are likely to agree is that, at its best, such art reflects a sense of place, gets people talking and makes us feel more engaged with where we live.
That has certainly been the response generated by Host, unveiled at Guildford station earlier this year – a public art project spearheaded by Network Rail and The Arts Society Guildford, led by Co-Chair and Arts Volunteer Coordinator Liz Collins.
This wasn’t the first time that Surrey railway stations have benefited from The Arts Society’s input in community projects. In 2017 Art @ The Station brought together The Arts Society Guildford and South West Trains to fund and install an ongoing programme to see local students’ work enlivening the waiting rooms at Guildford, Haslemere and Farnham stations.
Liz undertook to collate and replace the artwork every school term, which is how she got to know Edd Williams, Interface Manager at Guildford station. Explains Edd: ‘In April 2021 we were given the green light to create an art installation in the subway running under Guildford station’s platforms, with funding from local railway bodies including Network Rail and South Western Railway; this was part of a wider initiative to bring local art to our stations. I asked Liz if she’d join the panel responsible for helping the project – her knowledge and local contacts meant it made total sense.’
From Liz’s viewpoint, the project was to be ‘a steep learning curve for us all. We needed to find an artist who was not only a great storyteller, but one who could rise to the practical challenges of
the project too.’ The large-scale public artwork had to bring a sense of place, identity and welcome for those using the station but, as a public installation, it also had to meet necessary health and safety requirements, and be removable, easy to clean and fire retardant.
Another detail of Host, by Julie Hoyle
Finding the artist
Liz approached Surrey-based artist (and Arts Society Lecturer) Mary Branson, best known for her sculptures and light installations, including 2016’s suffrage centenary celebration New Dawn at the Houses of Parliament. ‘Mary’s experience in creating large-scale public works meant she knew just the sort of artist who might be able to help us; she led us to printmaker and digital artist Julie Hoyle.’
Julie’s resulting plan was a mural referencing Guildford’s historic sites, landmarks and history, created with the sort of artistic momentum that meant those rapidly walking past from either direction could take it in; it echoed, too, the thrum and pace of the station itself. It would be created using a collage of Julie’s handmade prints and paintings, scanned and collaged digitally to create two five-metre panels, printed on aluminium.
‘I knew about The Arts Society having lectured locally to its members about my work,’ says Julie, ‘but this was the first time they’d been involved in commissioning me direct; I worked closely with Liz and Cherry-Anne Russell, Head of Arts Volunteering.’ One of the first challenges for Julie was that, given the scale of the project, she needed a larger computer.Liz applied for funding from the Community Rail Network and a refurbished iMac was purchased. It wasn’t only about meeting the artist’s practical needs, however. There had to be an understanding of how an artist needed to work. As Liz explains: ‘Although we had a deadline and a budget, Julie had to be confident that she wasn’t going to be rushed.’ She had to have the time to research local history, talking extensively to those who live and work there. ‘I learnt such detail,’ Julie says, ‘not just about the stories of the more obvious sites, including the cathedral and the Space Centre, but the fact, for instance, that the town is a centre for the video gaming industry.’
Artist Julie Hoyle (left) and Liz Collins (right) at the opening of Host
Views and reviews
Host was unveiled last April at a ceremony attended by stakeholders and members of the local community who’d helped Julie plan the mural’s narrative.
Small but important details had to be realised to get to the finishing line, including securing funding from The Arts Society Patricia Fay Fund to realise a small plaque of information to be placed with the artwork. With Host now in situ, response from the 3,250 or so people who pass it every day has been strong.
For the artist, her hopes were that the work would serve as ‘a rupture in pedestrian life’ – a phrase she had heard used by public art consultant Marc Pally. ‘It was so good to see people stopping at the installation,’ she says, ‘asking about it and pointing out local landmarks featured on it.’
For Edd Williams the installation ‘shows how art can make public spaces more attractive and thought-provoking; and, just as Julie intended, you see something different in the mural every time you look at it.’
The experience has fuelled Liz’s desire to see more Arts Societies work with their communities to facilitate the creation of public art. ‘As an arts organisation with so many Societies within it, we can help public art become a reality,’ she says, ‘giving communities that sense of pride and local connection.’ Such art starts conversations – and long may they continue.
Find out more
For more stories about the work of The Arts Society, explore our website at theartssociety.org and see The Arts Society Magazine, which is free to members and supporters of The Arts Society. To join, see theartssociety.org/member-benefits
About the Author
is an editor and writer with an interest in the arts
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