Thursday, 27 March 2014

Wareham House, Carroun Road SW8

Peter Peri's footballers look almost comically dated now, with their long shorts, long socks and heavy leather boots. They were created in 1952 to brighten up a post-war council block.
The sparring players were built up in multi-coloured concrete troweled on to wire mesh secured to the wall.
The footballers face not onto the public space of Carroun Road but the internal courtyard, whether so it would be better appreciated by the residents or simply because that was where the only suitable space was available is not known. Unfortunately it means this work of art looks out over the bins.
Note the sensitively-located security light. I like to think it was put there by the same maintenance man who put up this nearby notice, with typical Sarf London subversive humour:
Peter Peri's life was largely defined by flight from oppression. He was born a Jew in Hungary in 1899, but it was not his religion but his left-wing politics that forced him to flee the country, first to Vienna and Paris, then, in 1922, to Wiemar Berlin. Htler's rise to power in 1933 sent signals he could not ignore and he and his wife slipped off to Britain, arriving with the clothes they stood up in and little else.
Having been forced to move round Europe because of his avowal of Communism, when the brutality of Stalin's rule began to be revealed he abandoned Marx and became a Quaker, attracted by their pacifism and commitment to bettering the lot of working people.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Horton House, Meadow Road SW8

Peter Peri, the sculptor who executed this charming group of a mother playing ring o'roses with her children about 1952, made a long journey as an artist from a stonemason's apprentice in Hungary, becoming an Expressionist before the First World War, flirting with Constructivism between the Wars and ending up as a figurative sculptor. It reflected his political journey through left-wing activism to Communism and back - as the true enormity of Stalin's regime became clear, turned his back on ideology and became a Quaker, devoting his energies to bringing accessible art to the lives of ordinary people.
Which is what he does at Horton House. The medium is concrete applied wet to metal mesh secured to the wall, a system that appealed to him (he was perpetually skint) and to Lambeth Borough Council, who had no money either. 
The use of colours brings the composition vividly to life.
Note the sensitively-located security light, the sort of thing that happens when a work is not listed.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Darley House, Laud Street SE11

Following the Leader is a poignant piece intended by the artist, Peter Peri, as a memorial to the children killed in the Blitz.
The area was extensively bombed, and most of the houses that survived were taken down when peace broke out by a council determined to create a new Jerusalem. Darley House was built in the late 1940s and this piece dates from between 1949 and 1952.
Peri offered his services to Lambeth Council on spec, partly because he wanted to bring art to the people but also because he was broke (the War was not a time when commissions were common). Before the war, to save money, Peri had developed a technique for sculpting in wet concrete directly to a wall. He would secure an armature of wire mesh to the wall and trowel coloured concrete on. The technique attracted interest from industry and an exhibition of his work in 1938 had been sponsored by the Cement and Concrete Association.
The composition shows children holding hands in a spiral towards the sky. The concrete is ochre coloured. Originally, the bricks or the pointing may have been coloured but any background treatment has now been lost.
The location of the work is very strange. Instead of adorning the front, south-facing side overlooking Vauxhall Gardens, it is on the gloomy stair well round the back, looking out over the car park, electricicy substation and the bins.
Whether this is due to Peri's desire to create art for the residents rather than art-lovers, or simply because the architects had already finalised the design and the stair well was the only flat wall available, is impossible to say.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Durning Library, Kennington Lane SE11

Jemina Durning Smith was a Victorian heiress and philanthropist who lavished money on medical charities and this curious spiky library in darkest Kennington. She seems to have had no direct link with the area, as she lived in leafy Ascot, but her brother-in-law Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence was a library commissioner for Lambeth. The sugar magnate Sir Henry Tate was building libraries in the borough (he lived in Streatham) and the pair seem to have persuaded Jemina to join the enterprise.
As must have seemed logical, she employed Tate's tame architect Sidney RJ Smith to design the building - he also built Tate's libraries and his gallery on Millbank.
The library was built in 1888 and includes lots of rather nice ceramic ornaments by the local firm James Stiff and Sons. Stiff learned his trade at Doulton's and branched out on his own in 1842.
A portrait roundel of Jemima is located in the spandrel of the main ground floor window.
Above, a dragon holds a shield showing a lamb, a book and a castle. The lamb is the symbol of Lambeth (as one would expect), the book indicates the library and the castle may be a reference to the London County Council whose shield was 'ensigned with a mural crown or' ie a crown in the form of city walls in gold.
In the tower, a panel shows a shield with an ostrich holding a horseshoe in its beak, flanked by a wyvern and a  swan. I have been unable to find any explanation for this, though the shield is said to be the badge of the MacMahon family.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Church of St Anselm, Kennington Cross SE11

St Anselm's church was planned in 1911 but the intervention of the Great War delayed construction until 1932. The design is an updated Roman basilica, a form that combines majesty and economy.
The architects were Adshead & Ramsey, who brought in Alfred Gerrard to carve the figure of the saint over the door and the capitals on the columns inside.
Gerrard spent most of his career in charge of sculpture at the Slade, teaching and influencing a generation including Edwardo Paolozzi and F.E. McWilliam. In the First World War he flew night bombing raids with the RFC and in the Second he worked on camouflage and as a war artist. One of his eccentricities was standardising his dress, buying lots of the same items including corduroy trousers, collarless shirts and sports jackets, avoiding any need for thought when getting dressed in the morning.
St Anselm was Archbishop of Canterbury under William Rufus and Henry I, as well as a major philosopher and writer. Gerrard depicts him as a curiously child-like figure seated between a lion and a lamb lying down together, as in Isaiah, holding his right hand up in blessing.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Hobbs Gate, Kennington Oval SE11

Inside Surrey Cricket Ground's Hobbs Gate, memorial to Sir Jack Hobbs, is a panel celebrating another batting legend, Len Hutton. The carved brick portrait was created by Walter Ritchie, a Midlands-based sculptor who specialised in the medium.
Oddly, the piece was the outcome of a fund-raising effort in the 1980s to rebuild the Oval, which had fallen into sad disrepair. Donors 'bought' bricks at £1,000 each (and the actual bricks were donated). Len, by then Sir Leonard, was personally involved in the venture but sadly died before it was finished. It was unveiled by his widow in 1993.
The diagonal pose captures perfectly the moment when Hutton sends the ball whizzing off to the boundary as he sprints off to the other crease. Ritchie carved it with ever-decreasing chisels, occasionally looking behind into a mirror so he could check the whole composition without having to do that thing artists do, standing back, forming a square with their fingers and sucking in through their teeth.
Note the carefully positioned electrical cables down the side of the work. Shoot that maintenance man!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Old St Andrew's Charity School, Hatton Garden EC1

The old charity school was built as a chapel by Sir Christopher Hatton to serve the residents of the street that bears his name.
A notice outside claims it is by Wren but that seems unlikely - the proportions are all wrong and the pediment has a flat top, something the master would never have countenanced. He was working at the time on the parish church, St Andrew, so the chapel may well have been built by one of his tradesmen.
A pair of schoolchildren flanked each entrance, as was customary, but one pair was later transferred to St Andrew.
The girl holds her homework, and it now displays a list of the people who repainted the statues between 1968 and 1994. Both figures are looking a bit flaky - time they were given another coat, I feel.

Monday, 17 March 2014

County Fire Office, Piccadilly Circus W1

The County Fire Office was one of the pivotal buildings on John Nash's magnificent route from Carlton House to Regent's Park, forming a point de vue up Lower Regent Street and marking the change of direction into the Quadrant.
Nash's original was destroyed as part of the wholesale rebuilding of the route. Its 1924 replacement, by Ernest Newton, has all the bombast of the Edwardian period even though that monarch had been dead for more than a decade.
The only link with Nash's design was the inclusion of a statue of Britannia, sculpted by Yorkshireman Hermon Cawthra, a man best known for war memorials in the north. She looks rather stern...

Friday, 14 March 2014

One Eagle Place, Piccadilly W1

Sir Simon Milton was the politician's politician, the guy who cleared up the mess at Westminster City Council and transformed Boris Johnson's big ideas into practical plans. Unusually for a Thatcherite, he seems to have been universally admired and loved.
He died in 2011, tragically young, after a long battle with leukemia and is commemorated by this bust on the building he used to live in, now redeveloped behind the original facade.
The sculptor is Alan Micklethwaite, who tells me that he had considerable difficulty getting his subject's profile. He never met him in life, and nobody takes casual photos in profile, so Micklethwaite had to be creative to get the effect he wanted.
The background is filled with buildings Sir Simon knew. Over his right shoulder is the Gate of Honour at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, through which he passed to collect his degree. Behind that is the old Westminster City Hall. Over his left shoulder is the new City Hall, BoJo Central.
A charming touch is the slice of cake and chocolate eclair on his desk, reminders of his first job in the family firm, the Sharaton chain of patisseries.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Former Royal Waterloo Hospital, Waterloo Road SE1

The Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women was rebuilt in 1903 to designs by Waring and Nicholson, who decorated the entrance to the outpatients' department with this charming sign by W.J. Neatby.
Made of Doulton's faience, the letters are particularly satisfying.
A naked woman reclines at each end, hair flowing in the wind. The one on the left holds a bunch of poppy heads, a symbol of fecundity because it bursts with seeds. The ancient Greeks depicted Cybele, mother of the gods, as crowned with poppy heads.
The girl on the right holds a Pinard stethoscope, designed specifically for use in childbirth. Apparently it is still in use today in many areas of the world, where it is regarded by midwives especially as easier to use, less intimidating for the mother and less likely to generate confusing noise than ultrasound. This is in stark contrast to the familiar rubber-tube variety, which today is worn only as a symbol of wisdom and authority. The actual examination is done electronically.
The building is now student accommodation for the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.