Blog Post written by Danny Howes (5 minute read)
Can you believe it? Only three months has passed since world famous mural artist Jay Kaes and a crew from BT Sport arrived in Darlington to film the painting of the Arthur ‘Kwame’ Wharton mural. Time has flown by and sadly due to Covid, many people have been unable to travel to Darlington to see the mural up close. Fingers crossed that ‘lockdown 3.0’ will be the last and we can all work on finding out what our ‘new normals’ look like.
Those visitors who have been fortunate enough to get up close to the mural, have been blown away by it. Many of them (young and old) ask us a number of similar questions. These include; how did BT Sport get involved, who was the artist and how long did it take?
So, I thought I’d use this blog post to answer some of these common questions, enjoy the read…oh and please do let us know if you have any more questions / comments / thoughts / observations (we love questions and feedback)!
- How did BT Sport get involved?
Towards the end of September 2020, I connected with colleagues in the BT Digital Diversity and Inclusion Guild. Black History Month was due to start at the beginning of October and I knew the Arthur Wharton story would be of interest to my colleagues. So, I contacted Shaun Campbell to ask if he would be interested in meeting up. After a couple of Tweets and a phone call, Shaun invited me down to the Foundation HQ in Widdowfield Street, Darlington. On Friday 25th September, I popped down to meet Shaun (thinking I’d be there for 30 minutes). I was there for 5.5 hours! Over the years our local newspaper (the Northern Echo), had covered Arthur Wharton extensively. However, what Shaun shared left me astonished. His passion and enthusiasm, was also so inspiring and infectious. I wanted to help in anyway I could, to share Arthur’s story with everyone.
We recognised immediately that an organisation like BT and the (immensely) talented folks at BT Sport, would jump at the chance to support the Foundation. One idea that Shaun had was the painting of a mural on the gable end of the house on Drury Street, which opens up into a large yard at the side of the Foundation.
So, that weekend I pulled together a few slides about Arthur and the opportunities where BT and BT Sport could get involved. One of the pictures I shared was a picture of the yard wall, photoshopped with an old image of Arthur. This along with a few video calls and emails, sealed the deal! All senior managers were 100% behind the proposals. BT Sport understood it’s historical importance and significance.
In the space of two weeks BT Sport had mobilised a production team to travel to Darlington to paint the mural and record the process, which would be a key part of their ‘Black History Month: a Celebration’ programming. All of which would be unveiled and broadcast on 28 October 2020 – which was the 155th anniversary of Arthur Wharton’s birth in 1865.
- Who was the artist?
The mural’s artist was Jay Kaes. He is Spanish, but now lives in London. It was Jay’s first (and hopefully not last) visit to Darlington. The BT Sport Creative team had a really clear brief of what they were looking for from a mural artist and settled on Jay Kaes. BT Sport and the artist worked closely with the Foundation throughout the design process.
Jay Kaes did an amazing job. To witness the proposed design transform from a WhatsApp image into a mural was fascinating. Please do check out his website here. His portfolio of work, all around the world, is incredible – he even has prints available to hang at home in his online shop.
Jay even spent a few hours of his time before he left for London, to paint a one-off triptych for the Foundation in a similar style to the mural. We cannot wait to get these framed and on display in Widdowfield Street. We love it.
- How long did it take?
This is a very popular question! Jay Kaes and the BT Sport team arrived in Darlington on the afternoon of Saturday 17th October. Jay needed to get up onto the roof of the Foundation that evening, to project and sketch out the mural design onto the wall. In typical Darlington fashion, the heavens opened and gave us all a soaking. Jay worked quickly and was able to sketched out the mural in less than 3 hours. Everything was now ready for two full days of painting, on the Sunday and Monday. Everything went to plan. So all done in less than 2.5 days AND within 25 days of me first meeting Shaun.
- What does it represent?
The mural perfectly encapsulates Arthur Wharton through Jay Kaes technological style. A wonderful mix of photo realism and Jay’s contemporary art style. From the black and white stripes (representing Newcastle and Darlington), to the colourful ‘Kente’ cloth, to the Cleveland Challenge and Prince Hassan Cups (which Arthur won whilst living in Darlington), to the Ghanaian flag references (black star and colours), finally, to the bold white line that flows behind Arthur (representing Arthur’s power and ‘Trailblazing’ life).
- What does the Foundation think of the mural?
Pleased is an understatement…..! Honestly, a day doesn’t go by, without Shaun or I pinching ourselves that this mural actually happened. We are so proud of what BT Sport and Jay Kaes have done for the Foundation, in creating a fitting, permanent memorial and tribute to Arthur, in Darlington. Many visitors also ask what ‘Kwame’ means. The name Kwame is a boy’s name of African origin meaning “born on a Saturday”. Doing this was so important to the Foundation – a very powerful message and recognition of Arthur’s Ghanaian heritage.
- When can I come and see it?
Due to current lockdown restrictions we are unable to grant access to the Foundation. When it is safe to do so, we will be opening the doors to give as many people access to the mural. Please do keep an eye out on our social channels and website for details. We really look forward to welcoming you!
- Did Shaun Campbell or I paint it?
Absolutely not – it was all Jay Kaes work (although I do reckon Shaun has told a few people that he did it)! Whilst Jay was doing his thing, Shaun was busy painting the front of the Foundation white and I was busy pointing and painting the yard walls grey!
I do hope you have found this post of interest. Being part of the mural and supporting the Foundation are memories I will treasure forever. Even whilst having to adhere to social distancing measures, we were able to laugh and enjoy what we were doing. It involved some very long days, some very dry hands and lots of cups of coffee. Many local residents dropped off some of the finest Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi food for Shaun and I. We even had a surprise visit from the local constabulary, who gave us a fright of our lives as a van load turned up after a long day of painting!
The mural looks as fresh today as it did on the day it was painted – sharp, vibrant and meaningful. So, we can’t wait for more people to be able to see it up close. Until this time, stay safe and well.
Finally just wanted to add that we have a little saying down at the Foundation, which is: ‘Connecting the Present, to the Past for the Future’. We think that the mural does this perfectly – an amazing fusion of; Black History, Arthur Wharton and Art.
Thanks again to the team at BT Sport and artist Jay Kaes. The Foundation would also like to wish Jay Kaes a very Happy Birthday (19th January)!
If you have enjoyed reading this, then please check out these UK Street Art & Graffiti articles about the mural.