Manchester’s Public Art

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From Lemn Sissay’s series of poems adorning the walls and pavements through to the classical Ford Madox Brown murals at the Town Hall, but what other artworks lie in wait of discovery throughout the city? What about off the streets and into the everyday; the negative spaces where you spend so much time? There is almost always art in these functional buildings, only it’s not usually very good. Offices and art seem to exist in parallel universes to each other, with the best attempts often as depressing as a faded, mass-produced watercolour in a crass gold frame, strip lit for added nausea.

In The Midland Hotel, in the Wyvern Room, the walls are lined with Eadweard Muybridge photographs. Muybridge was fascinated with the locomotion of animals and was a pioneer in his field, capturing what the human eye could not perceive as separate motions. British born, but working mainly in California, Muybridge killed his wife’s lover and Phillip Glass produced an opera based on the story.

The Castle Hotel was once home to a mural of the former landlady; Kath Smethurst. The mural was created by Mark Kennedy, a prolific mosaic artist in Manchester but aside from the artistic merit of the piece it was the material used that really set this apart – the grouting was made from Kath’s ashes. Kennedy has used the same method for his mosaic of Bernard Manning on the wall of Manning’s Embassy Club in Harpuhey.

(You can hear me talk to Documentally about The Castle’s macabre mosaic, and other Manchester curiosities, for Northern Quarter Stories here)

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William Mitchell has a series of works to be found around Manchester and Salford, mostly located in functional buildings such as schools or offices with a few examples installed outdoors. Working closely with architects, believing art and architecture to be basically the same form, Mitchell has an extensive portfolio that he can’t even keep track of himself. One particular mural is located over four floors in the Mercure Hotel at Piccadilly and is made from sections of old pianos hammers, furniture and bottle tops. If you stand back a little you can start to see the shape of buildings and birds emerging, like an old fashioned Magic Eye. Another fine example of Mitchell’s work where you’d least expect it is in the reception of the CIS Tower.

Mercure Hotel

Photo from Skyliner’s Art in Architecture tour, by Gareth Hacking

CIS Tower

The post office off Market Street houses a series of fibre glass murals that you’ll either love or hate.  These large panels date from 1969 and sit above the counter, though despite their size and four decades of sitting pretty in public view, it’s remarkable how few people have even noticed them. Created in modern post-war style, similar to the works of Alan Boyson, William Mitchell and Didsbury-based Mitzi Cunliffe (famous for designing the BAFTA mask), these reliefs have survived renovation, unlike many other works from this era which are often seen as dated and, ironically, the first to go during modernisation.

Spring Gardens post office

Spring Gardens post office

Photo from Skyliner’s Art in Architecture tour, by Joshua Gow

Brian Clarke’s speciality is in stained glass and is known as ‘the rock star of stained glass’. Heavily involved in the punk movement and experimental in his style, he knew that stained glass was a dying art and to save it would mean to disassociate it with the church, as such he refused any religious commissions whilst attempting to rejuvenate the art form.  Local examples of Clarke’s work can be found at Spindles Shopping Centre in his home town of Oldham and in the Victoria Quarter in Leeds.

St Augustine’s church at Grosvenor Square is home to an enormous sculpture by Robert Brumby titled Christ in His Glory. The ceramic and glass mural is said to be made from the rubble of the former church after it was destroyed in the blitz. The Hidden Gem (St Mary’s), a church tucked away between the Town Hall and Deansgate, houses 14 paintings by Norman Adams. His Stations of the Cross are bold, modern canvasses adorning the aisles of the city centre church and are considered to be Adams’s finest work and one of the greatest religious commissions in the country.

St AugustinesPhoto from Skyliner’s Art in Architecture tour

Schools, especially those built in the 60s, are often home to fine examples of public art. Cromwell Secondary School in Salford is the home of the wonderful Alan Boyson mural ‘Tree of Knowledge’. The mural was created in 1962 and depicts a mythical tree of life mounted by a wise owl. Historical fragments that were found on the site during erection of the school were used in the creation of the mural and when it was announced in 2009 that the school would be demolished The Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society applied for the art to receive listed status. The listed artwork remains on the one wall of the building that has been spared from demolition. Plans are to relocate the mural but for now it stands fenced in and deserted on a car park.

Recently some of Boyson’s ceramic tiles were found to be decorating the doorway of the Discount Furniture Store in Denton.

Tree of Knowledge

Photo (and lead photo) by Michelle Hickman

The public should be encouraged into these spaces to view the works, and projects like Phil Griffin’s Pop Up Gallery are steps in the right direction. The current installation from the architectural journalist turned curator is ‘Home’ by Neil Dimelow.  Home is a panorama of Manchester’s skyline drawn from the 24th floor of City Tower in Piccadilly Gardens. The pop up gallery is currently in the foyer, and the public are welcomed in to admire the detailed view of the city, it will then tour a selection of buildings throughout the city that are owned by the Bruntwood firm.

HOme Neil Dimelow

Home Neil Dimelow

This article originally appeared in issue six of Twigs and Apples

"The zine is entirely printed on recycled paper, with a single colour risograph cover and full-bleed laser print pages! 

Bringing you: Short stories, hidden public art, album, book & exhibition reviews, an interview with Preston-based Mystery Tea House, musings on G4S police privatisation, inspiring quotes, and our usual great vegan recipes, art, illustration and photography.

 edition of: 150

published: autumn 2012

pages: 48

price: £2

print: digital b&w print (inner) / risograph print (cover) 19 x 14cm approx.

contributors: Stuart Saint, Benedict R, Steph F, Sarah Riddel, Hayley Flynn, JP Rearden, George Arthur Eccleston, Nuala Ryding, Youssef El-Gohary, Sophie Green.”

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  1. hayleyflynn posted this

If you’re a photographer or curator and would like to collaborate on a piece; if you're interested in booking me as an alternative tour guide; or if you’re neither of those things and are simply curious about places I’ve been to and would like to know more, then why not ask me a question; drop me a line; say hello…

I can also provide help with location scouting throughout Greater Manchester
You can email me if you'd prefer theskyliner.org@gmail.com