Nazir Tanbouli names all of his monsters. The one on the shabby red wall of the run-down Kingsland Estate in Haggerston is called Mr Meatloaf the Dragon. ‘Each of my murals has a name, otherwise I’d forget which one was which,’ says Tanbouli, an Egyptian artist who has lived there since 2007. Dozens of his fantastical creatures, with giant googly eyes and snaggle-toothed grins (think Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ meets Picasso’s ‘Guernica’), fill the estate: lurking around every corner, splashed across walls and rearing up in front of balconies.
‘I wanted to create a storybook that you could walk inside, a sort of fairytale narrative,’ says Tanbouli, who began the King’s Land Mural Project in March. He was initiallygiven permission by housing association L&Q to paint the outside wall of his studio, which is on the estate, on the basis that the whole place is about to be demolished later this year to make way for around 700 new homes (built in 1952, the estate’s life exactly spans the years of the Queen’s reign).
But Tanbouli’s monsters, with their gangly arms reaching across the walkways and balconies of the flats, were an instant hit. Residents started coming to take a look at the pictures and having their photos taken in front of them. ‘I was delighted,’ says Tanbouli, ‘and was encouraged to do more by the housing association. It was like being offered a free canvas in an almost limitless gallery. What artist wouldn’t accept?’
However, he quickly realised that traditional mural paintings would not survive, because of vandalism. So he began creating paper templates of the creatures. From these, he makes copies that he pastes on to the walls whenever his wonderfully wild monsters are defaced. ‘[The vandals] rip them off and I come out with a bucket of wallpaper paste and stick another piece over the top,’ he explains.
If the rain and the vandals hold off long enough, there’s going to be a huge open party on June 30 to celebrate the end of the project: a not-so-private view which will be the last opportunity to see Tanbouli’s vast outdoor portfolio, before the murals, along with the estate, are pulled down. Celia Topping
Watch the documentary about Nazir below…