“We just couldn’t believe it”: Sheffield artist unearths signs of air pollution on city mural

Sheffield, ‘The Outdoor City’, is famed for its parks, green spaces, and proximity to the Peak District – and now a ‘living mural’ has shown the severity of our air pollution problem.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 4:09 pm
Jo Peel and Nigel Dunnett show off their dirty hands due to the air pollution after pruning the Growing City mural.
Jo Peel and Nigel Dunnett show off their dirty hands due to the air pollution after pruning the Growing City mural.

Artist Jo Peel was joined by Nigel Dunnett, professor of planting design and urban horticulture at the University of Sheffield, in trimming their work ‘Growing City’, a 30 metre living wall mural on the facade of the Persistence Works in the city centre of Sheffield.

Now, the pair have shown just how much the area is polluted when they noticed their hands were covered in black grime after trimming the mural.

"We couldn't believe it," said artist Jo Peel.

Jo Peel said: “We were there updating it and trimming it back for the spring, and we just couldn’t believe it.

"We looked at our hands and they were just black. We looked at each other and were like, 'what is that?’ And it was the pollution.

“You cant actually see it on the plants, it was just from touching them all of the fumes have stuck to the plants, which is what they are there for – so it was doing its job.”

Jo Peel crates artworks across the urban environments of the Steel City – including Kelham Island and around the University of Sheffield – depicting both industry and nature, intertwining them and exploring their inherent relationship.

Jo Peel and Nigel Dunnett maintaining the Growing City mural in April.

After working with Nigel Dunnett at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, she decided to ‘do it for real’ and incorporate the physical element of nature: leaves and greenery, rather than just painted depictions.

“Originally I was painting trees and thinking about nature taking over, but when I worked with Nigel I saw an opportunity to do it for real; you can’t work in the city and not be concerned about the health of everything,” Jo said.

Her views coincide with the Sheffield local elections, where the Green Party made gains across the city.

"It is really important in Sheffield because it is a city people move to because its green, and with the Peak District being nearby,” she added.

"There’s so much more opportunity with a forward-thinking council, it’s possible to really implement change that can make the city better.”