The Beatles iconic Sergeant Pepper album cover is the inspiration behind a series of iconic murals which encompass the richness of Croydon music history.
Thornton Heath’s Wesley Baker who is a well known artist, photographer and creator of CDN is one of eight artists whose work was selected to appear in the Centrale and Whitgift shopping centres Croydon Music City art trail.
The murals are a tribute to Croydon’s musical icons: past, present and up-and-coming stars and sit alongside the art work of another Thornton Heath native Bareface, whose distinctive street art was the first to be chosen by the judging panel to feature.
His modern day portrait of Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor sporting a pair of headphones has already won many admirers.
Here we speak to both artists about the musical influences that inspires their creativity.
Wesley describes himself as “one of Croydon’s biggest fans” and says he has always been passionate about the borough.
Since his childhood he has admired the skyline and Croydon’s ambition to be a city. Back in 2008 he started travelling across Croydon to photograph it with the aim of showing people what the area is really like to alter perceptions based on stories of crime and highlight what’s great about Croydon through art.
He said: “Music is important to me as I’ve grown up in a household where music was always played and loved that.
“It can tell a story or be a source of fun and anyone frequenting Croydon town centre probably knows how much I like to have music accompanying me as I cycle around. I see the music I love as the soundtrack to my life.”
Wesley has drawn on that love of music and all things Croydon to create three digital collages which celebrate 110 different musical alumni who hail from Croydon.
He said: “The artist I was shocked to find out who was from Croydon was Des’ree. I had no idea whatsoever despite loving her music since hearing ‘Loving You’ in the 90s Romeo and Juliet movie.”
He has been working on the design for over five years and reveals: “Even up to the week before I had nerves about taking on such a big project having only created work on canvas or paper. The previous mural I did was about a tenth of the size of what you see in Centrale.
“This project means so much and as a digital collage it wouldn’t have been possible to have been created without the original work of various photographers, creative directors and the people we see in it. I didn’t feel there was enough of a celebration of the musical talent in this town and I’m so grateful the Centrale team believed in the concept enough to allow me to realise this tribute to our local members of the music industry and music venues.”
If Wesley had to pick a favourite artist from those he included who would he choose?
“It has to be Nadia Rose,” said Wesley. ”She’s so underrated for the talent she exudes. She’s filmed about three or four videos in Croydon with the Skwod music video being the most recognisable Croydon location and I think something a lot of Croydonians are proud of.
“Talent wise I love how she delivers her lyrics with such a seamless flow, there’s an element of Missy Elliot like humour, her confidence, her iconic hairstyle can’t be forgotten.”
Wesley started documenting Croydon through photography as he wanted photos to cherish home when he headed off to study transport design at Coventry University for four years.
Brixton-born Wesley said: “What inspires my fondness for Croydon is my memories of a town which as a child was exciting. I remember the spiral ramp up to the 1st floor of the old Whitgift and travelator to the Forum pub. If you look at Lunar and Apollo House they stand on legs and as a child the buildings were like something out of the Jetsons.
“I knew Croydon had a certain negative perception. When my grandparents moved to West Croydon from Brixton my mum said her friends said she’d be woken up by the cows and chickens. The image now is of a crime ridden concrete jungle like Batmans Gotham City.
“Having been a pupil at Riddlesdown high school the bus journey from Thornton Heath to that part of Purley allowed me to see how big, diverse our borough is and ultimately how beautiful the landscapes are. I wanted to share all of this with the world in the hope people would see this and give the area a break.
He concludes:“Having created these murals it would be great to continue what I’ve started with more murals around Croydon. If anyone has a blank wall they’d like to see some art on it would be great to work together to bring some art celebrating local people to the streets. I’d love to feature the people I wasn’t able to fit into the Art Trail murals and see how I can develop further on what I created in Centrale.”
As a 17-year-old the artist known as Bareface met the late Duke of Edinburgh and it left a lasting impression on him and helped settle his creative career path.
Nick Daley aka Bareface was a sixth-former at Whitgift School, one of four pupils invited to St James’ Palace to the official launch of the Young Entrepreneurs of Britain competition. Nick’s illuminated, self inflating helium balloon design which he developed to aid sightings during rescue operations caught the eye of keen sailor Prince Philip.
Nick chatted with the Duke and invited him to sign the schools design and technology department’s visitors’ book (pictured) which he duly did.
Nick said: “It was probably about 25 years ago now but winning the Duke of Edinburgh Award, meeting him and the conversation we had made me realise that being creative was definitely the path for me and I didn’t turn back from that moment.”
His latest artwork features Samuel Taylor Coleridge who fought against racial prejudice with his musical compositions.
“I stumbled across Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s works quite recently,” he said. “I was taken aback by his dynamic compositions. The fact that he lived locally and is a person of colour made me feel immensely proud.”
The Afro-British composer died in Croydon aged only 37 of pneumonia in 1912 and became referred to as the ‘Black Mahler’.
Bareface said: “Much like Coleridge-Taylor’s music, a combination of African and Concert music culture, this piece is a fusion of my Croydon underground musical roots. It’s loud, in your face and playfully rebellious, like a lot of Street Art today. If he were alive today, he would appreciate today’s music, so he would probably listen to that, I feel. But I like that it’s open to interpretation.”
Bareface whose iconic Dare to Dream mural is the backdrop to the rejuvenated Ambassador House forecourt in Thornton Heath, said about his latest art installation:“I feel proud to have a large scale art piece in such a prominent spot in Croydon; I hope people can see what you can achieve if you dare to dream.”
Inspired by jazz, classical and hip hop Bareface explains his design concept: “The brief was to come up with a piece that captures Croydon’s musical heritage, which can mean different things.”
“To me, its heritage lies within the roots of underground electronic music such as UK Garage, Dubstep and Drum ‘n’ Bass. The sounds were loud, in your face and high energy. It served as a social commentary of the times, both lyrically and sonically.
“As you get older and you broaden your musical horizons, you discover new artists and genres. Croydon is a blend of diverse nationalities and cultures.
“I hope the portrait brings a sense of joy and inspires more people to investigate who Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is and listen to his great work.”