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Brian Barnes obituary
Tue 28 Dec 2021 17.01 GMT
My friend Brian Barnes, who has died aged 77 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was a celebrated muralist and a leading light in the community arts movement. Warm-hearted, funny, outspoken and a hugely gifted artist, he created murals around south for more than 45 years.
He was born in Farnborough, Kent, and raised in nearby St Paul’s Cray, the first child of William Barnes, chief executive of the Mullard electrical components company, and his wife, Eileen (nee Hiley), a seamstress at Morphy Richards. His parents supported him in everything and he had a happy childhood. Brian’s first school was Gray’s Farm primary, then Midfield secondary school for boys.
He began a course at Ravensbourne College of Art (now Ravensbourne University London) in 1961, leading to a national diploma in design. There he met Aileen McKeegan, studying fabric design, and they married in 1964. Brian stood out as a determined realist painter and went on to study at the , where he graduated in 1969 with beautifully composed and detailed work.
Moving to Battersea, south-west London, the couple found a leftwing group of friends and became activists, campaigning for better social provision in housing, parks and jobs and protesting against rent rises and the redevelopment of Battersea power station and the riverfront for the wealthy.
The necessity of creating art expressing social concerns gave Brian a new direction, and a bolder style for his work. In 1973 he began printing silkscreen posters at home for campaigns. Demand grew and by 1977 his print workshop was producing hundreds of posters for the community.
Then came the murals. His first, , in 1975, was vast, and was painted with 90 volunteers, near Battersea Bridge. On the “good” end were pictures of socialist goals, in the centre a “rainbow” broom swept away the capitalists’ failure. It became a popular landmark. A year later the wall was demolished. Protesters arrived in thousands, Battersea Bridge was closed and the artist arrested.
More large scale gable-end murals followed; sunny evocations like Day at the Seaside and Battersea in Perspective. Then anti-war murals: Nuclear Dawn in Brixton, with its threatening skeleton, and Riders of the Apocalypse in New Cross, featuring world leaders riding rockets around a besieged world, above a tender rendering of messages at Greenham Common.There were many more murals for creches, nurseries, schools, towns, estates and railway stations.
The Stockwell war memorial, begun in 1999, was the work he returned to often. It is a joyful mural with many images, dedicated to the fallen in the world wars, and celebrating local residents such as Vincent Van Gogh and the second world war special operations agent , as well as the Windrush immigrants who spent their first night in Britain in the area.
Brian was appointed MBE in 2005 for services to the Battersea community. He is survived by Aileen and their children, Eloise and Glenn, and grandchildren Daniel, Lilya and Natalya.