May 15, 2023
Brian Barnes (1944-2021) was a celebrated muralist, a leading light in the community arts movement and an activist known especially for his campaigns to preserve Battersea Power Station. He lived and worked in Carey Gardens, Nine Elms.
Brian was born in Farnborough, Kent and attended Ravensbourne College of Art in 1961, gaining a national diploma in design. There he met Aileen, who was studying fabric design, and they married in 1964. Brian went on to graduate from the Royal College of Art in 1969.
Brian and Aileen moved to Battersea, found a left-wing group of friends and began campaigning for improvements to social housing, parks and jobs. They protested against rent rises and in particular, the lack of emphasis on the local community in the redevelopment plans for Battersea Power Station and the riverfront.
Brian’s desire to express his social concerns creatively took his art in a new direction, as 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.
He first gained recognition in 1976 with his vast mural: Battersea: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, painted with the help of 90 volunteers on the wall of the huge Morgan Crucible factory by Battersea Bridge. It depicted a brush sweeping away the industrial dilapidation along Battersea’s riverfront and replacing it with a colourful utopian vision of social prosperity for the local community. Unfortunately, as Morgan’s had ceased operations on their Battersea site the decision was taken to demolish the wall along with Brian’s mural one fateful night in 1979.
More murals followed; sunny evocations like Day at the Seaside and the Stockwell War Memorial Mural; and anti-war murals including Nuclear Dawn in Brixton, with its threatening skeleton, and Riders of the Apocalypse in New Cross. Many more were produced for nurseries, schools, towns, estates, and railway stations.
Three of Brian’s murals survive locally. Battersea in Perspective can be found on the Haberdashers Arms, Dagnall Street, featuring portraits of radical politicians, artists and pioneering aviators. A Brief History of Time is situated in Carey Gardens and includes the estate architect Nick Wood, Keith Moon of The Who (the band recorded locally), the legendary Pink Floyd inflatable pig and the Sopwith Camel aircraft.
The third mural, newly renovated, is sited at Chesterton Primary School.
In 2005 Brian was appointed MBE for his services to the Battersea community.
This local history insight was provided by the Battersea Society. Find out more about their work and events on the Battersea Society website.