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Blog: Nor Greenhalgh’s New Public Art Commission in Botley: Murals, Mosaics and More!

02/03/2022

In partnership with North Hinksey Parish Council and the Vale of White Horse District Council, Fusion Arts is managing an exciting local public art initiative - the creation of bespoke artworks in and around the Botley West Way development.

Commissioned by North Hinksey Parish Council following a December 2020 callout, artist Nor Greenhalgh, stone carver Alex Wenham and mosaic artist Clare Goodall will produce three separate yet interconnected pieces. These works will offer something for the whole community, inspired by Botley’s history, nature, and local character, complementing the charm of this bustling neighbourhood.

To inform the development of the artworks, public consultation has been taking place over the last six months. The artists having been consulting local historical material in the library and are having conversations with Botley residents and community groups. Clare has been working with local schools to develop designs that will be integrated into the works.

Everyone can join the community consultation and activity day for this project on Saturday 19th March at Seacourt Hall, 2pm to 5pm. During this session you will be able to meet the artists, find out more about their ideas, ask them questions and even try your hand at some drawing and mosaic art!

If you have any feedback about this project so far, please email info@fusion-arts.org using the subject line “West Way art feedback”.

Subject to approval from Highways England, Nor Greenhalgh plans to bring vibrancy to the pedestrian area beneath the A34 flyover with an exciting new mural. Here, she outlines her artistic process so far:


“Understanding the site

The flyover is a mid-20th century solution to increasing traffic on the ring road. It allows safe passage by foot under the A34, maintaining an ancient walking route out of Botley. However, it is designed at a scale more in-keeping with the motorist’s-eye view than that of the people walking through, especially on the south side where it presents a dark concrete tunnel to people on foot.

Consultation about this site was carried out with members of the Botley GAP action group, who have been organising for improvements to the flyover for some time. All identified that the flyover is acting as a (psychological & physical) barrier, cutting off Botley from nearby amenities. They expressed a desire to make it feel more like a 'gateway' or 'bridge' that connects places together. There was also a general desire to brighten up the dark interior, perhaps with cheerful colours.

The flyover's pedestrian walkway
The flyover viewed from the pavement below

Potential of the site

As well as drawbacks, the flyover has some great potential. The pedestrian 'tunnel' separated from the road by a concrete wall could be an interesting space to pass through, shielded from motor traffic. The unusual shapes created by the internal slope and long wall under the roof draw the eye upwards and could be exploited for visual effect, providing an ideal canvas for engaging visual motifs which draw walkers through the space. This could be a space to celebrate those travelling on the pavement, linking with the long history of paths and bridges leading from Oxford to Botley, which locals and pilgrims have traversed for centuries. Effective results can be achieved with weather-resistant paints, which give very bright and durable colours.

Community engagement

It's been wonderful to meet so many local people during the initial research and outreach phase of the project who are passionate about Botley as a place to live and create community. We spent two enlightening days meeting local residents and councillors, which was a valuable chance to sound out what was required from the project and scope out the type of public artworks that might be possible and desirable in this location.

Bob Cowley & Linda Losito kindly introduced us to some of the valuable ecological habitats in the area - including the escarpment of the flyover itself, which supports a range of plants and insects in this most unexpected place! We spent an afternoon with the Botley Lunch Club to hear what the area around West Way means to people there, and their views and hopes for the new development. Local councillors gave their time to talk us through the history of Botley, and introduce us to volunteers at the local food bank. Caroline Kellner (nee Howse), who grew up on the farm here, walked me around the site and showed me some original milk bottles which have just been unearthed here by the builders. She very kindly allowed me to take plaster casts of these, to record their beautiful 1930s typography and look at whether this might be reproduced in some of the tile work on-site.

The Botley GAP action group gave their time to physically investigate the space with me - walking through the flyover after dark to assess how it could be improved - and helping to formulate what is required of a public artwork there by drawing subjective maps of how the site fits into the surrounding landscape.

This initial process of listening and seeking to understand the site has fed into initial inspirations for a public artwork. The themes emerging strongly for me from initial community engagement were: Botley as a place where people come to make a home; alongside the paradoxical role of the area as a busy transport interchange and place where people are often passing through. This tension is embodied in the flyover itself, which both protects and alienates pedestrians; which feels like a barrier and yet facilitates movement; which is simultaneously "unhomely" and yet provides a rich habitat for many species - not least many roosting pigeons!

Colourful aprons worn by Botley Lunch Club members
1930s milk bottles recently unearthed by builders at the West Way site

Themes and inspiration

And once, in winter, on the causeway chill

Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,

Have I not pass'd thee on the wooden bridge,

Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,

Thy face tow'rd Hinksey and its wintry ridge?

And thou has climb'd the hill,

And gain'd the white brow of the Cumner range

-Matthew Arnold, 'Scholar Gypsy'

CLASH OF SCALES: The paradoxical feeling of the flyover can be summed up as a clash of scales, where little humans on foot are confronted with large-scale structures and signage that is designed to be viewed from a distance and at speed. Impossible to avoid, this uncomfortable clash could be made into an interesting visual device. It would be ineffective to try and "disguise" the flyover as anything other than a large, modernist concrete structure. So, I have aimed to embrace its incongruent scale when drafting designs which are aimed squarely at the human looking up from the lowly position of the pavement, and highlighting how the human-scale body relates to this much larger structure.

MOVEMENT THROUGH BOTLEY: Much of the historical material we were introduced to by local people highlighted the Botley road as an ancient travel route, giving access not only to Oxford over a series of waterlogged fields but also nearby to important local pilgrim routes. I was struck by the romance of old poems written about the area's walking routes, contrasting (sometimes humourously) with Botley road's modern reputation as a busy transport corridor. Lines such as "through flooded fields foot-travellers go" evoke a lost past, while highlighting the historical continuity of this route for people on foot.

THE FLYOVER AS HABITAT: Nature has a habit of making a home of whatever is available, and I was inspired by the way a group of pigeons have taken up residence in this rather inhospitable spot. I wanted to respect them as residents of the space - this is, after all, their home - and I was inspired by the subtle beauty of their pearlescent green and mauve feathers, which shimmer in the light. Such metallic effects could greatly enhance the dark interior space, and provide changing visual interest as people move through it. The species growing on the escarpment could also provide visual motifs.

Prototype feather designs

Creating unique tile mosaics for Botley

In keeping with the desire to connect the various parts of the West Way development, I have collaborated with mosaic artist Clare Goodall to explore how artwork in the flyover could tie-in with her mosaics elsewhere across the site, to give a sense of visual coherence. We produced a series of prototype tiles, which could introduce local wildlife motifs and some relief texture into her mosaic panels. Some tiles were produced by directly pressing into the clay with local plants. In others, we used screen printing to reproduce motifs generated in Clare's school workshops. Effective results were obtained by then cropping these motifs into various tile shapes - an effect that I propose to reproduce in the flyover mural, by 'cropping' the same enlarged motifs across the 'tiles' of paving slabs on the internal slope.

Prototype mosaic tiles and motifs

Community engagement next steps

Further public engagement could generate more finished motifs by playing with scale, for example using very powerful botanical magnifying glasses to hone in on detail, then enlarging this to the greatest size that it is possible to draw by hand - celebrating the 'clash of scales' already found in the flyover. I hope to use details of the motifs generated as repeating elements within the mural. If we are unable to obtain consent for a mural within the flyover, these motifs and relief work can be expanded elsewhere on the West Way site. I would be particularly interested to hear from anyone who is lucky enough to still have original interwar wallpaper or patterned fabric in their home here, as further inspiration for visual motifs.”

To find out more about Nor’s work or to get in contact, please visit her website eleanorg.org. You can join the free and open-to-all community consultation and activity day to meet Nor and the other artists on the 19th March at the Seacourt Community Hall, 2-5pm.



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