THE new mural for Tunbridge Wells railway station is now underway and will be painted by local artist Chris Burke.
The renowned caricaturist created the front page cartoon for the Times illustrating the stand-alone position of Tunbridge Wells when it voted Remain in the EU referendum.
The theme of the work at the station is a timeline of Tunbridge Wells from the iron age up to the present day – and the town’s residents are being asked to put forward their ideas to illustrate the last 100 years.
Mr Burke, who has lived in Tunbridge Wells since 1989, was chosen from a shortlist of three artistic groups and is working in conjunction with another local artist, Elaine Gill. The mural is set to be installed on March 31.
He is currently using a vacant shop in Ely Court as his studio, producing an initial drawing of the design which is 18ft long.
The completed mural will consist of 18 large panels, which will form a mural 35 metres long and three metres high. The panels will be photographed and put on to vinyl using a special camera.
Mr Burke, 61, will continue to paint in Royal Victoria Place (RVP) as the work grows, and he says: “It will be quite exciting for the public to see it unfolding.”
He added: “It’s just too big to do it at the station, and also there would be health and safety problems working on the platform itself.”
He says that after the vinyl version is produced, the original artwork will be housed either in RVP or at the new Creative Hub premises on Monson Road.
“I haven’t got room for the original in my own house,” he added. “Unfortunately I don’t own a Victorian mansion. Maybe if Peggy Oppenheimer had still been alive she could have had it.
“I went to an expressionist exhibition recently and there was the huge Jackson Pollock ‘Mural’ there that she had commissioned for her hallway. It was 20ft long!”
The subject matter almost suggested itself, given the nature of the undertaking. “I did a timeline because it’s so long that you couldn’t just do one picture,” said Mr Burke.
‘It starts with the town’s sandstone rocks
during the Iron Age’
“It starts with the town’s famous sandstone rocks during the iron age – apparently there was a settlement here.
“Then came the Romans, Dudley Lord North who discovered the Chalybeate Spring, then Queen Anne who founded The Pantiles, Beau Nash and Queen Victoria.”
“So far the timeline goes up to 1907, when Edward VII visited the town. But we’ve still got half a panel left, which may not sound like much but it’s still a lot of space.
“We’re inviting the people of Tunbridge Wells to send in their ideas for what we might include to depict the period from 1907 to 2017.”
The background will be white because ‘it’s a dark old spot on the platform’. There will be filigree decoration featuring hops, while the railings of The Pantiles will turn into railway tracks because of the station connection.
Mr Burke is experienced in working with murals – even with a commuter element. He was commissioned by Transport for London to paint hoardings when Green Park tube station was refurbished.
“They wanted caricatures of eminent Green Park personalities on the hoardings they erected outside. So I did Queen Victoria breakdancing, the Duke of Wellington in a boot, Sir Isaac Newton with a wig made of apples.”
Ten years ago Mr Burke supplied no less than 90 murals for the book chain Ottakar’s across the country – including the Tunbridge Wells branch, in which he also depicted famous people from the town.
The previous murals on platform two were removed last July when it was discovered that the framework securing them had decayed.
When repair work was undertaken, rail operator Southeastern said the MDF which had acted as the canvas had crumbled and the mural could not be saved.
The loss of the previous artwork, which had cheered up many a commuter’s miserable wait for rail services, caused an outcry around the town.
The originals were painted in 1989 by noted mural artist Brian Barnes in conjunction with Carrol Kenna and Steve Lobb of the Greenwich Mural Workshop.
Mr Barnes will now produce a replacement for his mural, which will again feature the town’s landmarks.
Mr Burke’s new work was commissioned after Southeastern teamed up with local stakeholders including Refresh Tunbridge Wells and Royal Tunbridge Wells Together.
If you would like to make a suggestion for the content of the final panel, visit the Facebook page for Platform2tw or email Platform2tw@gmail.com before February 14. For examples of Chris Burke’s work, go to www.chrisburke.co.uk