Bradford's Brutalist Masterpieces: William Mitchell's Murals in Bradford, Bingley and Ilkley

Bradford, January 2018

A guest lecture as part of the 'Random Lecture series' at Bradford School of Art.

Born in 1925, the artist and industrial designer William Mitchell’s work can be seen in towns and cities around the world. However, it does not hang on the wall of art galleries, but is an integral part of the buildings in which it is found. These range from everyday places such as schools, libraries, pubs, subway underpasses and the foyers of post-war towerblocks, to flagship buildings like Harrods and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool.

The talk gave an overview of Mitchell’s work and career, focusing in particular on three artworks by William Mitchell in the Bradford area which demonstrate his post-war work in municipal and civic contexts as well as for corporate and commercial clients.

Using innovative techniques and working in media such as moulded concrete and fibreglass, all three murals are distinctively of Mitchell’s style, yet take different stylistic approaches, from abstracted pattern-making to incorporating elements of the history of the area in which they are located. The lecture explored a series of concrete murals in Bradford’s Kirkgate market, built in 1973 to replace a previous Victorian market, undertaken by Mitchell or one of his associates; thirteen fibreglass panels, commissioned for the former Bradford and Bingley Building Society headquarters in Bingley in the early 1970s and depicting the architectural and engineering landmarks of the area; and a large mural for the Ilkley Wool Secretariat, completed in 1968, which explores the history of wool manufacture locally.

These case studies were used to highlight wider changes in attitudes towards post-war architecture, and the ways in which these types of artworks are regarded: whilst a new home has been sought in recent years for the Bingley murals, which were removed as the highly unpopular building in which they were situated was demolished, Mitchell’s Ilkley relief has been widely feted and was celebrated with Grade II listing by Historic England in 2015.

 

 

 

 

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