ATM has been painting on the streets since 2014. Known for his giant murals of birds and animals, his work draws attention to them. Often linking the paintings to the nature of the local area itself. This is about raising awareness of the natural world but in a local, community setting.
We’ve covered ATM’s work for a while now. Interviewing him first in 2014 near the now demolished South Acton estate which he had covered with bird murals. Then again in 2017 we caught up with him at a wall in Walthamstow. There his medley of paintings on Coppermill Lane still pay homage to the nearby wetlands. Most recently we featured his work in Hastings where in 2018 he created two pieces as part of the Coastal Currents festival.
Now we are back. He’s painted across London, the UK and around the World often working with conservation projects. His work can be seen in places off the beaten track where you least expect to see them. A street artist with a difference he doesn’t use spray paint. Painting the giant walls as he would a canvas with brushes and acrylics. His work can be viewed from housing estates, to museums and nature reserves.
So for this post we wanted to find out about some of his most meaningful works. Ten in fact. Some of the pieces which tell a particular story or have a particular resonance. We didn’t ask him to rank them. Just to give us ten which we could then learn the stories behind. We’ve presented the murals and the stories behind them below in alphabetical order. For the full stories though have a watch of the video interview we did with him at the Wetlands.
1. Badger – For Scottish Wildlife Trust at Falls of Clyde, Lanark
“Badgers are amazing animals. Their sets, their roots and their feeding grounds go back hundreds of years. That’s why roads can be so devastating to badgers. Because they still follow the same historical tracks which they’ve followed for centuries”
The site of an ancient badger set. ATM was invited to the Falls of Clyde to pay homage to that fact by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Often scapegoated for being carriers of Bovine TB. The Badger has been on the receiving end of authorised culls which purport to be trying to stamp out the disease. Science, ATM says, is against the cull but it’s continued by the government to placate the farming industry.
2. Chaffinch – Loughborough Farm, Brixton
The Chaffinch is a bird that does live in urban areas and can live in quite a small space. A place like (loughborough farm) is exactly what they need. So it seemed quite a good symbol”
An unused tarmac waste ground in a heavily built and urban area which has been turned into a community garden. “It’s a brilliant example of what can be done” says ATM. “It was just a bit of tarmac. Nothing living there. Nothing growing there. Local activists then took it over and started growing herbs and flowers in big builders bags.” The painting he did of the Chaffinch has since become weathered and tagged but still he says, “shows respect by not going over the bird”.
3. Cuttlefish – Museum Road, Portsmouth.
“It’s really important for a lot of marine life. That bit of sea between the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth where the sea grass grows. It’s an endangered environment. It’s a protective area for cuttlefish who migrate there to lay their eggs… It’s a beautiful environment that’s hidden under the sea yet which sustains so much life.”
Painted for Wildlife Trusts’ National Marine Week and the ‘Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust‘. The mural also formed part of the ‘Living Seas‘ and ‘Save the Solent’ campaigns. “It’s about protecting what’s hidden from sight beneath the sea” says ATM. The sea grass acts as a nursery for so many different species, not just the baby cuttlefish. There they mingle with other baby fish, seahorses and crabs.
4. Hedgehog – Ipswich
“(There are) less and less undisturbed places like piles of logs or piles of dead leaves. They not often left over winter. Park’s clean things up. Everything’s tidied up! But they need these to hibernate in. They find their food there. Lot’s of other birds and animals need this as well. It’s a universal problem. Too much tidiness and not enough little refuges”
Part of a programme aimed at making Ipswich the most “hedgehog friendly town in England”. Suffolk Wildlife Trust even had a designated hedgehog officer. The mural was about raising awareness whilst a wider programme of education took place in the town. Simple things says ATM can make a big difference to hedgehogs such as “leaving holes in fences, not using slug pellets and leaving piles of leaves and logs in winter.”
5. Hen Harrier – Isle of Sheppey
“There’s a big ongoing struggle between the grouse hunters and the conservationists… They (the grouse hunters) say they’re not (getting shot) but Hen Harriers disappear and they are not there where they should be.”
On a pillbox by the sea the mural covered over previous graffiti which had been left there. Hen Harriers migrate over the Isle of Sheppey as they make their way to the grouse moors of the North of England. Sadly, once there, they often disappear. Shot by gamekeepers who are concerned that they will prey on the grouse. The mural was painted to support ‘Hen Harrier Day‘ which aims to raise awareness of the missing birds.
6. Heron and Common Tern – Greenwich Peninsular Ecology Park.
“When I was painting there were eleven tern chicks. Raised on a tern platform in the middle of the lake. That was amazing. They’d fledged and they were flying around, making a lot of noise whilst I was painting.”
A tiny remnant of waterfront nature despite the high rise buildings which surround it. The Ecology Park only covers a few acres but boasts a lake and plays host to a number of habitats. Currently terns thrive in the park but are at risk due to the building of a nearby tower which threatens to cast a shadow over the lake. “Terns only nest in direct sunlight so it’s a real disaster.”
The other big problem here are the clippers. They have twin turbines which churn up the mud. Some estimates claim that about four and a half feet of mud has been lost from the shoreline since they were introduced. The mud itself contains the nutrients which a number of species need to survive. Species such as Teal have suffered badly as a result in the area.
7. Kestrel and Wildflower Meadow – Hope Gardens
“Kestrels used to be so common and now they’re disappearing and wildflower meadows are too. It is all quite dark. These habitats are just going.”
A representation of what a healthy meadow might look like. This is very much a picture of what should be. The Kestrel sitting at the top of the food chain. Looking down on a meadow beaming with life, all of which sustains one another. The mural itself is a collaboration with fellow artist and urban gardener Karen Francesca. Part of a project with Artification and Cultivate London. A number of improvements have been made around the tower blocks of the Hope Gardens estate. Planters for vegetables, nest boxes, wildflowers and insect houses. All have been created in order to try and promote biodiversity in this built up area.
8. Sparrowhawk – Daubeney Road E5
“It’s at the top of the food chain. If there’s Sparrowhawks around it means that there’s lots of small birds around and that means there’s lot of insects around and lots of good habitats for them. So they’re like a symbol of a good healthy environment.”
Painted as part of the Friends of the Earth 10 x Greener campaign. An initiative to work with local communities and streets to support them in re-greening their area. “They want to create a template that can be reproduced in lots of other areas” explained ATM. A crowdfunding campaign in the area was then successful in employing a community gardener who would help maintain the work. Choosing to paint a Sparrowhawk, “it’s a good sign. As with kestrels, if there are Sparrowhawks around, it shows it’s healthy.”
9. Red Mason Bee – Hanwell Zoo.
“When people think about bees they think of honey bees. When in fact, solitary bees are much more important as pollinators than honey bees. There’s 250 species of bee in the UK and some of them nest in little holes in the ground. Some in sandy banks. There’s multiple ways in which you can help solitary bees and other insects by just creating little habitats.”
Part of a summer arts course with Ealing Council. This was a way of engaging with young people who might have previously offended. Working with them, the plan was to teach skills to young people who might well have had no previous experience with crafts. “There’s a little bit of Hanwell Zoo which is devoted to native wildlife so we made quite a big insect house there” explained ATM. Housing a number of species including the Red Mason Bee which he then painted onto the finished structure. “They lay eggs with food in little tunnels and then seal it with mud. They make a kind of cement… that’s why it’s called a Mason Bee.”
10. White Tailed Eagle – Stavanger, Norway.
“They were re-introduced (to Britain) from the 1970’s onto islands on the west coast of Scotland with birds from Norway. So it’s a positive story. It shows just what can be achieved with co-operation.”
Once found all over the British coast the White Tailed Eagle could be found even in the Thames Estuary. Hunting fish and sea birds they were also blamed often quite unfairly for also preying on young lambs and were shot and hunted to extinction. The last one killed on Shetland in 1918. Now back again in the islands of Scotland where they were re-introduced. They haven’t re-gained their natural territory but they are back in the UK although still at risk of being shot. Despite this, the fact that there are White Tailed Eagles in the UK at all is a “celebration of British / Norwegian conservation cooperation.”
ATM was interviewed at the Walthamstow Wetlands on 24 February 2019. Many thanks to Isabel Carmen who joined us and who filmed the interview. A number of other Inspiring City features relating to ATM and his collective ‘The Treatment Rooms‘ can be found by clicking on the link. All photographs are courtesy of ATM unless otherwise stated.