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Jeremy Deller, Reuben Dangoor and David Rudnick Exhibition for Emirates Stadium designsCourtesy Hotel Creative and Arsenal FC

‘Togetherness is a big theme’: Reuben Dangoor on making art for Arsenal FC

The artist and life-long Arsenal fan has teamed up with Jeremy Deller and David Rudnick for a new show at the Emirates stadium

When Arsenal FC’s Emirates stadium first opened in 2006, it was a stunning new theatre for Thierry Henry and Robin Van Persie to ignite the crowd from the North Bank to the Clock End. In recent years, the Emirates’ peeling artwork and fading red exterior have been symbolic of the troubled readjustment period in the wake of Arsene Wenger leaving the club. Many lost faith in the players, the managers, and the board. To pull on an Arsenal shirt – whether a player or fan – carried little of the chest-pounding, crest-kissing pride that has been such an important part of the club’s past success. Mikel Arteta (manager of the men’s team) and Jonas Eidevall (head coach of the women’s team) have helped to usher in a new era at the Emirates, reinstating the core values of what it means to be an Arsenal fan.

Earlier this month, Arsenal FC unveiled eight new artworks to adorn the Emirates, designed by Reuben Dangoor, David Rudnick, and Jeremy Deller. Shedding the Arsenal of its old and dated exterior feels like a final goodbye, the swan song of an era associated with so much instability and mixed emotions, the stadium now draped in decor fit for a renaissance. The eight new artworks pay homage to greats of the past like the late David “Rocky” Rocastle while also championing the new heroes of the club (for example, the brilliant Arsenal Women’s 2007 UEFA European Cup winning side). Arsenal is a team that champions creativity and design – an aspect that shines through in the new murals that, all at once, feel timeless and strikingly modern, representing a club with a rich and monumental history but also one that is now constantly moving forward both on and off of the pitch. 

To an outsider, it’s hard to describe the impact of having such beautiful and meaningful murals decorate your stadium. After years of feeling like the club didn’t care about the fans, neglect and disappointment no longer feels part and parcel of being an Arsenal fan. When tens of thousands of Gooners march though Holloway now, not only do they have a dazzling young team to be excited to watch, but finally a home, a church, a fortress to be proud of.

The illustrator and artist already has a history of collaborating with the club, having previously designed a bespoke, Arsenal-themed Oyster Card and also another Arsenal-themed mural This Is Home, which stands proudly on Holloway Road. As the football club’s latest artworks are unveiled, Dazed spoke to Dangoor about his experience in being part of the stadium’s redesign and what it means to him as an Arsenal fan.

To begin, what did it mean to you, as an Arsenal fan, to be given the opportunity to design the new artwork for the Emirates?

Reuben Dangoor: It sounds cliché but it honestly meant the world to me. It was almost too much. The responsibility was insane but it was truly an honour to get to do it. 

How did contact initially start with you and the club, how was the process of designing and creating the artworks? 

Reuben Dangoor: Initially, I started speaking to Hotel Creative, the agency running the project. They were the ones who pitched the idea to me about doing the art and said Arsenal had asked to get me on board. The process was unlike anything I’ve done before. So many people were involved. There were fan sessions where groups of fans, relatives of former legends, like the Rocastles, were involved in really detailed workshops. Questions about moments, values, players and community were all put to this group and then the results were distilled down. I was involved as a fan at that point, and the canvas was completely blank. So the themes really came out of these fan workshops. 

Did you draw on elements from any previous works that you thought would be great to include?

Reuben Dangoor: I drew a soft toy Gunnersaurus tied to a cannon in a previous piece and it's always been satisfying for some reason. It’s like when you see a white van with a red nose or a poppy tied to the front.

What messages did you feel it was important to portray in the new murals? And what did you feel was necessary to improve on from the previous artworks?

Reuben Dangoor: The old artwork is iconic, but I think the club wanted to represent more than the group of players. They wanted to expand what the work was saying. The addition of the women’s team being represented was a big change. Arsenal were really clear on that, they wanted a real level of inclusion, and not segregate the teams. 

Togetherness is a really big theme. Whether that shows players working together, raising trophies and operating cannons, or the numerous flags and badges of the many supporters’ clubs from around the world. There is a huge mural with something like 720 fans altogether, from different eras, countries, ages, races, which again shows the diversity and unity of the club. I think, despite many of the players being icons of the past, this speaks to Arsenal in its current state. Players and fans feel very united within the club. 

What would you like Arsenal fans to feel from seeing your artwork around the stadium?

Reuben Dangoor: I hope they can feel proud. It’s for them, so I really hope they can enjoy them, whether that’s bringing back memories of Arsenal in the past, or feeling like the refresh is part of Arsenal headed in the right direction now and in the future. 

If you could choose one piece from around the stadium to perfectly summarise what it means to be a part of Arsenal, which would it be?

Reuben Dangoor: It’s really tricky. I feel like Highbury is always the heart and soul of the club, and so being able to bring that to the Emirates was such an amazing thing.

From a design point of view, what is your all-time favourite Arsenal kit?

Reuben Dangoor: Bruised Banana is a stand-out for sure. It was mad then and it still holds up so well now. Iconic. 

Finally, are you booking off holiday in May for when Arsenal win the leagues?

Reuben Dangoor: I’m so superstitious I'm not going to answer this in any way shape or form.

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