The Story of The Pinkeye Building
It was whilst visiting my family in the US that i became inspired by the mural artist, Robert Wyland. This story starts with a conversation about art with my cousins husband, Jerry Sell..
Jerry told me how he enjoyed creating art in his younger days and that he had encouraged his nephew Robert Wyland to pursue art. Jerry showed me one of his nephews books. Canvases were huge buildings set in industrial and coastal areas. I had seen murals before but Wyland’s style was unique because of the scale of the murals. He used airless spray systems and automotive spray guns (a large airbrush and traditional brushes) to transform buildings into giant blue and green murals making truly striking environmental messages.
He had completely inspired me and couldn’t wait to return to his home back in England.
Practice makes Perfect
The following weeks i read all the airbrush material he could lay his hands on but i needed somewhere to paint, somewhere to practice. So i approached my local college who allowed me to use their walls in the Painting & Decorating workshop. It was only after months and months of painting and repainting that i felt confident enough to take my airbrushing techniques outdoors.
I approached my old primary school St Albans in Warrington, remembering a wall at the back that was secluded from passers-by. Realising this would make a perfect location so i arranged to meet with the Headmistress who was his former teacher. Rememberingme as a pupil and realising his potential she gave me the go-ahead. I recall that it was around 3pm when she said this because just two hours later he had begun work just in case she changed her mind!! All the prep work, the cleaning and priming was completed late into the evening. The mural was started during the Schools Summer Fete much to the delight of the children. All the scaffolding were generously donated by a local business and the paint was given for free from Dulux and i gave my time for free all of which was covered by the local media.
Following the success of the primary school mural, I was talking to my uncle Bill, on the phone. Bill lived in Detroit and told me that Wyland was painting there soon.. I immediately arranged a visit. I was so excited by the prospect of seeing the master at work and was astounded by a thirty-three story sky scrapper smack in the middle of Motown called the Brodrick Tower. The first thing that struck him was how professional the operation was. Amongst others, Nordstrom (a major US store) and Sherwin Williams (the largest paint company in the World) were all supporting the event. The whole community got involved, from school children to adults. I was left wondering would this happen in Warrington?
apinkeye practising underwater murals
Underwater Mural at Local School
apinkeye with children at his old school
apinkeye with the children at local school
Back in England an article in the local paper by the Warrington Arts Council was brought to my attention. They were asking people to get in touch with them to paint murals in the town. I contacted them straight away and they met up soon after. They told me that they had access to funds, which are allocated each year for art projects and that they were considering a public mural in the town. After a number of meetings to talk through ideas the council asked me to find a suitable location for his mural. apinkeye pointed out several sites including the Old Fairclough Mill but the council opposed and the project never seemed to progress.
Nearly 12 months later, I was travelling home from work along Old Liverpool Road which was the same route he’d taken a thousand times. Once again he noticed the Old Grain Mill (Fairclough Mill) that had previously been discounted by the Arts Council. Peeping over the top of a cluster of trees, the building stood over 110 feet tall! It was then an idea came to me.. What if i contacted the owner directly? Perhaps this could be the location for the new mural.
I immediately contacted the owner explaining the project. The owner, Phil, was very enthusiastic so i wasted no time in showing him my work and soon convinced him that he could do the job.
In January 1999 I spoke to Warrington Council Planning Office to enquire if planning permission was needed for such a project. The planning office told him that it wasn’t needed however he felt it was best to make sure so followed up his enquiry asking for confirmation in writing.
A week later, I received a telephone call from the Planning Office informing me i now needed planning permission! Ever the optimist, i visited the Planning Office to collect the relevant paperwork. He spoke to the Planning Officer concerned who commented that he had visited the Old Mill Site. He had heard about the project and the arts competition and thought it was a great idea. He didn’t foresee any problems with getting the go ahead and said that the whole process should take around 5-6 weeks. I was now excited by the prospect and immediately set to work, completing the planning application form and preparing illustrations. The form was first registered on 12th February 1999.
All he needed to do now was raise the funds..
apinkeye and Wyland
Undersea Mural is Sunk clipping
Undersea Mural is Sunk clipping
A Battle for Funding
I contacted local businesses including Mcdonalds for sponsorship to fund an arts competition which would promote the painting of the building. Like Wyland’s event in the States, I wanted to create a community arts event involving local schools and the community. I even had the idea of handing out art materials as prizes. What could go wrong?
I went back to Warrington Arts Council to ask for additional funding. He was given an application form and during discussions they suggested he also contact Warrington Borough Arts Council which, despite the similar name, was a separate organisation. It wasn’t long before the response from Warrington Arts Council arrived. i had been refused financial support! They said the artist had not met their typical requirements. They said they normally gave grants to organisations to help them with start up costs. Furthermore they had rejected the support since I had asked for support from Warrington Borough Arts Council as well.
I was stunned and disappointed (undersea mural sunk! 8 photo in the video). He couldn’t understand why he’d had such a response when he had not formally applied to Warrington Borough Arts Council. He had spoken to one or two people but even so, it was Warrington Arts Council’s idea in the first place that he should do so. I was told Warrington Borough Arts Council was totally against his idea; but how would they know about his idea when he hadn’t even applied to them for support? He was told that they have representatives on both Committees and that there was no point applying to the Borough Council! I telephoned the Planning Officer dealing with his application the very next day as he was concerned that Warrington Borough Arts Council being against his idea may affect the planning application. He was told it would not.
I later heard that an objection had been received from the Council’s Highway Engineer, who said the mural would cause a distraction to drivers, despite the fact that the surrounding area was traffic light controlled! The Planning Officer had decided that a marine scene on the banks of the River Mersey in this urban industrial location, had no relevance and suggested he obtain backing from a community-based organisation.
I had been liaising with Warrington Arts Council for over 2 years and although he had received formal letters of support, nothing ever materialised. With a clear message that no funds would be forthcoming it came as a great relief when the owner of the Mill Tower, Phil, decided to fund the project himself, albeit on a cost basis, but this meant he no longer needed grant assistance. There was still the problem that the Town & Country Planning Department was objecting to a 110 foot underwater mural. After two months of negotiations the Planner was insistent that they still needed planning permission for a pictorial mural but agreed the building could be painted with the owners chosen colour, pink. Though out the planning debacle, i have had trouble sleeping and one night it was feed to me in a dream, i woke and said “I’ll paint a eye with a tear” It was to be a giant eye shedding a tear. It would symbolise the missed opportunity not only for the artist but for the whole community.
110 Foot Old Grain Mill in Warrington
apinkeye and savour, ‘Rob’
apinkeye applying the finishing touches
Ready to Start Painting!
Having organised the power climber, paint, safety equipment and insurances it was time for me to paint the Giant Mill. With the canvas towering over me the first job was to clean the lower part of the wall with a jet wash as this had black algae running down it. I used ladders for this stage, as i could not afford a power climber for this task, which meant the cleaning process took me the whole weekend. Standing underneath it was like standing next to a Colossus but he was confident he could paint it.
The first day of painting was here, it was a perfect summers day, there wasn’t even a hint of a white cloud in the sky nor a breath of wind in the air. By this time i couldn‘t wait to start. All the paint was there, the power climber was in position, safety cones out and the airless paint sprayer with litres and litres of white primer paint ready to transform this scruffy looking building, who people didn’t take a second look at, into one of the most eye catching pieces of art the town would ever see.
I had called in help from a friend, ‘Lee’ who was there ready to press the button on the other side of the climber,
“Ok Lee” I shouted, “Get on your side.”
Lee climbed onto the platform, “Press the button”
You could hear the humming of the motors as the climber ascended slowly,
“Stop” Lee Shouted
“What’s wrong?” I replied,
“I can’t” he said in his broad Black Country accent,
“Can’t go up”
“Of course you can, just ‘Press the Button’ It went up again a few feet then stopped. Once again Lee shouted,
“I can’t” This time he looked worried
“You must be joking? Why didn’t you tell me before? You have a fear of heights don’t you?” It had taken so long to get this far and now this. apinkeye couldn’t believe it.
“You should have told me Lee” apinkeye said in a dejected manner.
The climber had only moved 6 of the 110 feet. It would be impossible to paint the wall with out someone to ‘Press the Button‘
The ‘Small’ Miracle
In the distance apinkeye noticed a lonely young man sat watching him in one of the tyre units underneath the mill. apinkeye walked over with a feeling of desperation.
“Do you fancy helping me paint this mill?” He said in a desperate voice.
“Yes” the young man said with a confident reply. “But you’ll have to ask my boss”
“Where is he?”
“He will be back in half hour”
“What’s your name?” I said
“Rob” he said.
“My name is Anthony, How old are you Rob?”
“Just turned sixteen”
“What do you do Rob?”
“I work here looking after the tyre unit with my step dad who is the boss” (It was at that point that his step dad arrived back at the mill)
“Is there any chance Rob could help me paint the mill today?”
“Yes but you’ll have to pay his wages”
“That’s fine”I said.
Rob jumped up with excitement completely unaffected by the sheer scale of the project and height of the building. After briefly showing him the workings of the climber, the two began the assent up the building. apinkeye was finally going up to start painting!! There was a wonderful feeling as the climber went higher and higher. apinkeye recalls a cool breeze on their faces, it was this point at which he began to relax. Below, the River Mersey seemed to open up and come alive. It twisted like a giant green and blue snake, glistening and gliding through the industrial landscape dodging and weaving until it disappeared with birds skimming the river in poetic dance. I felt excited and sad at the same time, If only he could have painted what he really wanted but then the calm was broken,
“It’s a lot better than working with tyres all day,” shouted an excited Rob
“Lets do some painting then” apinkeye said. The two worked tirelessly that day for 14 hours.
The next 13 days saw me paint the wall, giving it four coats of paint, working up to 14 hours at a time. Some day’s Rob helped and the other day’s help came from Ste, Phils brother (the owner of the building). i was lucky to have day after day of glorious sunshine throughout the painting of the pink eye building. For it to stay dry in Northwest of England for the full 13 day duration of the painting process was a minor miracle.
Then the strangest thing happened.. As i was finishing painting the tear it started to drizzle.. It was as though somebody up there was saying,
It all makes sense when you are faced with the beauty of nature on a day like today I thought. So different from high above.. Perhaps that was the problem with mankind nowadays. It seems they only see what’s in front of them and not what they are standing on a beautiful planet
Apology letter from Warrington Council
A Public Apology
The press reports that followed were typical. I was accused by the Planning Department that his actions were ‘A Two-Fingered Response’ to their decision. He was shocked that the Council should be so flippant. The fact that it was a misrepresentation of what went on made it even more infuriating. i met with the Head Planner at the Council who admitted that the way that they had dealt with the matter had ‘fallen below the standards they set themselves’ and for this they apologised. Needless to say the planning fee was reimbursed and confirmation from them that he could proceed with his original mural but by this time the building had been completed.
Initially I wanted to create an underwater mural with environmental relevance, something that his inspirer, Wyland, knew so much about. The building still stands in a heavy industrial location (Photo 7 in the video) but the contrast would have been a positive one linking Warrington and the River Mersey to its wider biosphere, reminding people of their place in nature. All apinkeye ever wanted was a chance to do his art and by not fulfilling that was a crying shame!
Thank you for reading the story!