Situated near the River Thames at Rotherhithe, southeast London, the mural is one of a number of environmental art projects in which the artist has been involved. The original design was chosen unanimously by a panel including local residents from competition entries submitted by several London artists.
The work consists of around 350,000 pieces of Italian vitreous glass especially designed for mosaics. The hardened glass is supplied in tiles of various sizes which can be cut to the required shapes. The design was executed in the studio, and moved to the site in sections for application to the wall. Once fixed in place and grouted (placing special cement between the glass pieces) the mosaic is highly resistant to weather, environmental pollution and vandalism.
The background shows the skyline along Rotherhithe's riverfront, as seen from Wapping on the opposite shore. The buildings include 19th century dock warehouses, cranes and industrial chimney stacks. The scene is dominated by the handsome clock tower of Saint Mary's church. It is from this ancient waterfront that the Mayflower is said to have started its voyage which took the Pilgrim Fathers from Plymouth to New England.
The fact that the mural is situated on Swan Road is a happy coincidence. The original brief was to provide a design that would positively reflect on the area's history and environment.
Mute swans still live on the Thames and, due to recent environmental initiatives, are to be seen more often along the river between Tower Bridge and Greenwich, once one of the world's busiest industrial ports.
The artist lived locally, and on his walks along the river had been impressed by the sight of these large, graceful birds. He was astonished by the amount of effort they expend to get airborne: "They make swimming and flying look so easy," he says, "it's only when they are trying to take off that you realise their great strength. They flap their ernormous wings like mad, and have to paddle frantically along the water's surface with those huge webbed feet. And just when you think they're not going to make it, they finally lift off and regain their dignity and elegance."