A City Less Grey: Talking murals with Mike Winnard

This was an ambitious research project and artwork exploring the local history and contemporary communities. We spoke to Mike on completion of the artwork, who told us a little bit more about the project and how he found the process of creating the mural.

Our latest A City Less Grey commission is complete! Over the last few months, we have been working with Leeds based artist Mike Winnard on his exciting new creation. Curious to see the final piece in all its glory? You can spot the artwork in the Kirkgate area on Harper Street. We commissioned the piece with funding from Leeds BID and support from Rushbond PLC.

What was your inspiration and overall concept for the piece you created for A City Less Grey?
The piece is a personal reflection on the theme of public space, using the history in and around Kirkgate as a lens. The languages shown are some of the most widely-spoken in Leeds, and the various imagery was inspired by lots of contextual research. I chose the phrase ‘Common Ground’ for its historical meaning of publicly-owned land, and the double meaning of both shared physical space and of a middle-ground between different people. My overall hope was to create something which can be read in lots of ways, without having a single blunt message.

How do you personally feel about the mural you’ve created?
Erm… ask me in a month once I haven’t been looking at it all day every day!

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of producing the mural?
Sure; the project started with lots of archival and contextual research, looking into the history of the area from ancient times onwards, hoping to uncover some overarching themes as well as smaller interesting anecdotes. After this I started looking to tie some historical aspects with contemporary issues, and playing with different ways of doing this visually. Having arrived at a rough idea, I started approaching different people for the translations; avoiding professional translation agencies I looked to poets, academics and local residents instead. Once I’d gathered all of the imagery I wanted to use, I spent a long time experimenting with compositions and sequencing, to find a way of telling a subtle narrative within the piece, without being overbearing.

What kind of tools did you use to create the mural and do you have any favourites?
I marked everything out with chalk and then used masonry paint for the base-coat. After that a combination of all-surface exterior gold paint and UV-resistant acrylic inks for all the details. The Rustoleum gold paint is amazing, and so are the Molotow One4All acrylic inks – shoutout to ArtOfficial on Kirkgate for the inks!

Did you have to alter your design at all to fit the space?
Not really as the site was chosen right at the start, so I was always aware of the proportions. What I did do was tweak the design slightly so that the different images lined up with the platforms on the scaffold as much as possible.

"I tried hard to make a piece which was sympathetic to its surroundings and hopefully provokes some conversations around a really important issue" Mike Winnard

How did you find it working at height during the creation?
I loved it! The hardest thing was resisting the urge to use the scaffold as a climbing frame.

Were you lucky with the weather?
Haha yeah unfortunately I missed the heatwave but still about as lucky as you can be in British summertime!

What was the hardest part of the painting?
The wall is in pretty bad condition with lots of the mortar between the bricks gone, so there are big gaps between each brick. Getting neat lines and teasing all the paint into those gaps to give a clean finish was really time-consuming.

What is your favourite thing about working in the public realm?
It’s lovely working outside, especially somewhere lively and having all the noises, sights and dramas of the street as a background soundtrack to work to.

Has being involved in A City Less Grey had a positive impact on your own practice?
Definitely! Having the time and resources to really thoroughly research, develop, refine and execute a large-scale piece is a real luxury and it’s been a great experience that I’ve taken a lot from.

Creating work in the public realm can often generate a lot of attention. Did you have any particularly interesting conversations with members of the local community whilst painting the mural?
Haha yeah the guy who lived in the top-floor apartment of the facing building would stick his head out every so often for a chat and some feedback – he probably had a better view of the mural than I ever did! Apart from that there weren’t many people stopping to chat, as the site is in a gated alleyway, off a busy road and quite high up, so it was pretty hard to have a conversation from street-level! A few compliments shouted up from people leaving the pub in the evening which was always nice.

"I feel really lucky to have been a part of the A City Less Grey initiative and to have had the support from the awesome team at East Street Arts to make the project happen" Mike Winnard

Other things!