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TitleMoW commission - Barbican Highwalks
DescriptionIlluminated panel on Dorothy Annan and the Farringdon Street mural, which sits to the left of the mural itself. The caption beneath the left-hand photograph reads: "Fleet Building, Farringdon Street. © Stephen Richards." The caption beneath the main photograph reads: "Dorothy Annan in her studio. © Charles Trusler." Beneath the main photograph, the panel key reads: "1. Radio Communications and Television. 2. Cables and Communication in Buildings. 3. Test frame for Linking Circuits. 4. Cable Chamber with Cables Entering from Street. 5. Cross Connection Frame. 6. Power and Generators. 7. Impressions Derived from the Patterns Produced in Cathode Ray Oscillographs used in Testing. 8. Lines over the Countryside. 9 Overseas Communication Showing Cable Buoys." For a transcript of the main body of text, see the additional information below.
Additional infoCommissioned in 1960 by the Ministry of Public Building & Works, these murals adorned the Farringdon Street elevation of the Central Telegraph Office, which occupied the purpose-built Fleet Building. Dorothy Annan's series of nine ceramic murals are testament to the atmosphere of optimism and excitement about the new technology and communications that were transforming Britain in the 1950s and 60s. Celebrating what Harold Wilson referred to as the 'white heat of British technology', the subject matter of these stylised and abstract stoneware panels took direct inspiration from the building, London's largest telephone exchange. Representing pylons, cables, telegraph poles, cabling, television and radio aerials as well as generators, the nine panels clearly show the influence of British Modernist artists such as Ben Nicholson, in their muted colour palette of smoky blue, brown and green as well as their semi-abstract approach. Equally, the panel titled Test Frame For Linking Circuits owes a great deal to the pictorial language of the Spanish Surrealist Joan Miró in its use of playful thin black lines that seem to dance across the surface. While each panel is a unique work of art comprised of forty tiles measuring approximately thirty by forty six centimetres, there is a clear unity and symmetry to the whole. The most abstract panel titled Cross Connection Frame lies at the heart of the sequence, flanked on either side by Cable Chamber With Cables Entering From Street and Power And Generators which are both made up of dense geometric black lines. Impressionistic interpretations of technological equipment are depicted in panels such as Cables And Communication In Buildings and Lines Over The Countryside, whilst the more representational panels showing aerials and cable buoys bookend the sequence. Annan took meticulous care in the research and production of the murals. She visited General Post Office buildings across London for inspiration and collected scores of photographs of radio and television aerials, wiring systems and teleprinter keyboards for reference purposes. The biscuit ware tiles were manufactured by Hathernware Ltd, and she visited their Loughborough Studio where she skillfully hand scored each wet clay tile to her design. Following their first firing, Annan decorated, glazed and fired the tiles in her studio kiln in London before their installation on site in 1961. The attention paid to the production of the tiles lends them an unusual painterly quality with clearly visible brushstrokes. Murals were popularised by the Festival of Britain in 1951 which included over fifty specially commissioned murals. This trend reached its zenith in the 1960s as the post-War building boom created increased opportunities for muralists, and public art was often deployed to enliven large utilitarian buildings. Dorothy Annan's mural was commissioned to 'add interest at street level' to the Fleet Building which was built by the General Post Office under the supervision of Chief Architect Eric Bedford, who went on to design the landmark BT Tower (formerly known as the Post Office Tower). A painter and ceramicist with a bohemian reputation, Dorothy Annan's early work had a loose post-impressionist style and she later went on to become a prominent member of the left-wing political organisation Artists International Association, alongside fellow members Ben Nicholson and Frank Auerbach, which embraced both Modernist and traditional forms of art. The largest single example of her work was the Expanding Universe mural at the Bank of England, which was destroyed in 1997. Best known for her tile murals, Annan succeeded in constructing a personal visual language which successfuly tempered Modernism with organic forms and a natural palette. In 2011, following a campaign to preserve these exemplary murals from the 1960s, English Heritage granted these unique works Grade II status thereby preserving them for future generations.

Image labelAnnan panel
Image title
Image captionAn illuminated, explanatory panel which sits to the left of Annan's Farringdon Street mural, now found at Barbican Highwalks (near the Silk Street entrance)
Image copyrightDorothy & Trevor Tennant estate
Image licenseBY-NC-SA