Upon entering the Union, the less inebriated students are treated to the sight of two new murals done in the style of “street art”. Both murals were done by artist Charlie Anderson at the request of Director of Student Events and Services, Rollo Strickland.
On one wall a black and white bikini-clad girl sunbathing is covered by other, ripped posters bearing headlines such as “Shocking New B-Girl Scandal”, “A Startling Expose”, and “Variety”. Behind the girl is a male model, also in black and white, with super toned arms, grinning head on at the viewer. Over all this is graffiti of scribbles and signatures.
In the bar area is another, similar looking girl staring out at the view, again surrounded in the same style with ripped posters and graffiti art. This mural boasts of the new obsessions in Hollywood with artificial body changes, such as plastic surgery. The art suggests the voyeurism of tabloid magazines, though distorted, seeming larger than life. Add to that the graffiti, with a sense of rebelliousness and a general ‘f**k it’ attitude straight out of the punk rock clubs in the 1970s.
“I’m inspired by street advertising… The way that several different posters are layered on top of each other then ripped away to reveal conflicting information,” said Anderson. “You can have a political poster on top of a music poster on top of something else, with information from all of them juxtaposed to create some unique and bizarre message.”
It seems fitting that in the main bar of the union, a place which bears weekly witness to drunken debaucheries, hook-ups, break ups, make ups, and general student madness, Anderson would have made his statement here. “I’m essentially trying to document contemporary culture,” said Anderson.
Anderson, who has received awards such as the Meyer Oppenheim prize and the British Airways Degree Show Prize, said that his pieces were successful as long as viewers had a reaction to it. “I’d like them to relate what they see to something personal, and however that makes them feel then that is the reaction I want,” he said.
“I’m trying to create a narrative within my work, formed by the placement of various information and imagery. Whatever that narrative is, however, should be decided by the viewer,” said Anderson.
The murals are a part of a larger refurbishment that has just been instituted at the Union due to the admirable efforts of Rollo Strickland, the new Director of Events and Services.
According to Rollo, he “wanted a big bold change, and art is a good way of making a big statement.”
When asked about the murals, Rollo said that the work of Anderson was an obvious choice. “Anderson’s (work) highlights our fascination with sex in the modern era… I actually had to ask him to tone (the sexuality) down,” said Rollo.
“The staff at the Union didn’t like the changes initially,” Rollo said of the murals. However, “I wanted a big, bold change. Art is a good way of making (that) change.”
“I thought the union bar was very sterile… I got a 10 thousand pound grant to redo the union bar,” said Rollo. “I’m really happy with how (the refurbishments) turned out, but would like to do more.”
In addition to the murals, various other changes, such the relocating of the DJ booth and wallpaper, have been added. Many of the changes have actually made the Union a better place to hang out, with attendance rates for events much higher than they have been in previous years.
It appears, though, that the task of redecorating was met with some resistance. Assuming that everyone who enters the bar at the student union is, in fact, 18 years of age, the ‘toning down’ of the sexuality in the art work is curious; why do students of this age need to be protected from something that is so prevalent in our culture?
With or without the murals, the Union has most definitely become the place to be on any given night in town, due to the cheap drink prices and the plethora of fantastic events that have been put on recently. Any student who knows what’s what will be looking forward to see how the Union changes for the better in the coming months.