Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Nightmare on Clare Street

Words on buildings. Nothing unusual in that. From teenage tags sprayed on urban brickwork, to the officially-sanctioned graffito on the front of the Wales Millennium Centre: In These Stones Horizons Sing.

One of the more peculiar examples of architecture and the word, though, is this house on Clare Street, Cardiff. In 1984 its resident, Gerald Tobin, became embroiled in a bitter dispute with the council over grants. He began scrawling his grievances on boards and attaching them to the front of his house. He then barracaded himself inside.

Neighbours considered it an eyesore but I always thought his abode looked pretty cool. Like a giant artwork. As well as thousands of words he incorporated a cartoon of Edvard Munch's The Scream into his protest. The property became known, locally, as The Scream House. Adding further to the sense of horror, he wrote in big letters on his front wall: NIGHTMARE ON CLARE STREET. Many locals regarded him as a mad recluse.

I often used to take a detour to Riverside just to see if he had added any more words to his property. It was easy to forget that there was an old man actually living inside the building. And that he was going through his own, not very private, hell. In 2005 the council took out an injunction against him to remove his boards. When he refused, they did it by force. I took this photo about 6 years ago when his protest graffiti campaign was at its height.