A Croydon street artist is in the process of colouring a huge mural depicting a gay kiss on Surrey Street this evening (Tuesday, July 25).
Rich Simmons, who also drew the famous Batman kissing Superman mural in Park Street, designed the piece in the hope of making Croydon more colourful and inclusive as part of a project set up by RISE Gallery, on George Street. He had to use an electric cherry-picker to sketch then colour the artwork, which is on the side of Don’s Cafe, near Matthew’s Yard.
Rich said: “I have always been very pro-equality and the Superman and Batman idea came after I did an exhibition in central London in 2014. It was called kryptonite, and I used it to explore putting superheroes into different situations and using the characters to explore themes like money, fashion and sexuality. This is sort of a follow-up to that. It’s shocking to me that in 2017 some people are not judged on their actions but on what they are into in the bedroom. I’m still trying to use my art to promote equality.”
Rich is a professional stencil and street artist, having achieved global fame after moving from Peterborough to Croydon in 2010. One of his best-known pieces, other than the Batman and Superman mural, is a picture in South Bank depicting Kate Middleton and Prince Harry as the Sex Pistols. He lives in the town centre with his partner and has recently set up a new gallery in St George’s Walk, which does not have a name yet.
Talking about the style of the new gay kiss artwork, which is in natural tones and a semi-realistic style, Rich, 31, added: “It is important to me that it is not a cartoon to prove that it’s not a joke – that being gay is part of real life. I’ve always loved comic books and superheroes and would say I’m a bit of a nerd, but this felt a little more serious.”
The new mural has been paid for by funds set aside for public art by Croydon Council as part of its ongoing plans to regenerate the town centre.
Councillor Mark Watson, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy and Jobs, said: “It’s really brightening up the whole street as well as pushing boundaries a little bit. There is always a concern that gay people in Croydon don’t feel safe displaying affection in public spaces, so this gives a message that the borough is a welcoming, diverse, inclusive and tolerant place. Croydon is such an interesting place to be and our diversity is our strength. Sadly I still hear about children being bullied at school for being gay and this message is even more important considering the high rates of suicide and mental health issues in the LGBT community. If seeing this art makes it easier for a young gay person to come out or even saves a life, that would be fantastic.” Cllr Watson, who has campaigned for LGBT+ causes for decades, knows first hand how painful it is to be discriminated against for his sexuality. He lost his job and was separated from his partner after fighting for them to remain together in the early 1990s.
Rich added: “The fact that the council is this forward-thinking is fantastic. You can often tell where the ‘next big area’ is going to be based on where the street artists are, so it’s great to see that the council endorses Croydon as a new hotspot. I have had traders from the market here saying that they think I’m doing something amazing, which was really nice because they took the time to come over.” He anticipates that the mural will be fully coloured and shaded by the end of tomorrow (Wednesday, July 26).