'Athena Rising' is the latest mural by Nomad Clan, showcased to Leeds city centre from Bruntwood’s Platform building, above Leeds train station. Reaching almost 50m high, higher than the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, the mural is officially the tallest in the UK.
We sat down with the duo behind the painting, Joy Gilleard and Hayley Garner aka CBloxx and AYLO to find out about their journey leading up to this record-breaking project, in collaboration with East Street Arts and Leeds BID, as part of their ‘A City Less Grey’ series.
The first mural that the pair painted together was sponsored by Afflecks, the indoor market of independent retailers in Manchester city centre, owned by Bruntwood. The voluntary project was the start of Nomad Clan, as Hayley and Joy worked together and created an LGBTQ mural on the side of The Molly House in Manchester’s gay village, “it was almost like a community mural,” explains Hayley.
From there, the two became known as Nomad Clan and began their journey to become the internationally-acclaimed duo that they are today.
The road leading to the completion of Athena Rising was a long one, taking eight months to get from the initial conversations and starting to design the mural, to getting 150ft up in a crane and painting the final design on the 13 storey building standing proud above Leeds train station. It might be hard to comprehend how long the giant mural took to paint, until you look at Hayley and Joy on the crane by the side of the wall.
Image credit: www.bokehgo.com
The initial designs for the mural were far from that which you’ll now see rising high out of Leeds’ train station, depicting a historical scene including an old steam train, a nod to Leeds’ past. “The team at Bruntwood weren't keen on the heritage style piece because I think they wanted something more contemporary and forward-thinking. What we were presenting was the opposite of that,” says Joy. “From there we got buzzwords about the space at Platform to work with like social and digital connectivity.”
It was using these themes and ideas about the space, that the final design started to come to life, featuring the Owl of Athena, a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. The first draft of the final design was full of detail which gradually got stripped back. “With Bruntwood, even though they had an idea of what they wanted to see, they didn’t push anything corporate on us,” says Hayley. “We had a lot of free reign on the design, Bruntwood just wanted it to tie in with what the building is going to be used for.”
From there, the final steps of painting the mural on Bruntwood’s Platform building could begin. But this was not without its challenges. Some, Joy and Hayley were used to, but others were new to the pair. “There were certain colours that we couldn’t use within the design because they would have been distracting to drivers coming into the train station,” says Joy. “”All kind of things came into play that would never have had to consider on any other job.”
The mural itself took 16 days to paint, with the main challenge for the pair being having to get used to painting on the crane. “It was moving all the time and that was horrible, you felt really sea sick,” says Joy. On top of that, carrying out the painting in June meant Joy and Hayley found themselves having to cope with roasting sun on some days. But of course, this being England, they also had issues with strong wind and rain.
Even with all the challenges they faced, Nomad Clan were able to finish the mural before the agreed completion date. “It ran a lot smoother than we thought, considering it was such a massive mural,” says Hayley. “Bruntwood put a lot of trust in us. We knew we could do it without a problem, but getting someone to understand the weird process is hard. It’s a leap of faith really.”
“Where it is, slap bang in the middle of the train station there’s a lot of eyes on it all the time. For whatever reason, if we’d have flopped as artists once it’s up there and that cradle is gone, there’s nothing we can do about it,” says Joy. “It would have been an expensive mistake to make.”
But it’s safe to say that the mural has turned out amazing - as if we’d ever doubt them.
Header image credit: www.bokehgo.com