Monday 27 August 2012

Cavendish Square W1

This equestrian statue of the Duke of Cumberland is not all it seems. It is made of soap, and will in the course of the next year gradually wash away before our eyes.
South Korean artist Meekyoung Shin created the figure, a replica of a statue that stood on the plinth from 1770 to 1868 when it was removed apparently because the public had got very queezy about the Duke's war record. His total victory over Bonny Prince Charlie at Culloden was marred by orders to release the dragoons to mow down the fleeing Highlanders. In England, a new variety of garden flower was named Sweet William in his honour. North of the border it is known as Stinking Billy.
It will be interesting to see how the statue erodes. Meekyoung Shin is, appropriately, sponsored by trendy soap makers Lush.
Cavendish Square is also currently home to Solo II by Naomi Press, the Polish-born, Zimbabwe-raised, South Africa-trained, London-based sculptor. The abstract shape in mirror-finished stainless steel, reflects Press's early obsession with ballet. For me, it reflects far too much - the reflections in the steel confuse and dilute the image.
Part of the Cultural Olympics, Solo II will go in September so now is a good time to visit Cavendish Square, both to get the Butcher before his features start blurring and to take in the Press piece.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

15 Trinity Square, London EC3

This noble bird lords it over the former headquarters of the General Steam Navigation Company, built in 1908 by Edward Blakeway I'Anson, though it is possible it may have landed when an extra storey or two were added in 1931.
The GSNC was Britain's most prominent shipping line for years but never had the romance of Cunard or P&O because it specialised in short routes to north-west Europe. So its badge, a globe, was something of a hyperbole.
The globe on the building needs a bit of a clean, too. It gives the unfortunate impression that the eagle has a bit of a gippy tummy, possibly the result of eating in the pub that now occupies the GSNC's grand Freight Hall on the ground floor.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Pemberton House, Pemberton Row EC4

This muscular, indeed almost muscle-bound figure is a printer. I met a few printers in the dying days of Fleet Street and frankly none were at all like this. Too much indulgence in late night beer and meat pies.
But I mustn't carp. It is a beautiful sculpture, Youth,  by Wilfred Dudeney, commissioned in 1955 to stand in front of the headquarters of the Starmer Group, owners of local newspapers across the north country.
Dudeney was an academic and teacher, and this statue is a lovely example of the figurative tradition advanced by modern influences. It is hard to imagine what Henry Moore or Elizabeth Frink might have said about it.
When Wilfred Dudeney carved this coat of arms to go on the new Fleet Street HQ of a provincial newspaper group in 1956, he cannot have predicted that the story of printing there was almost at an end.
The figure on the left is probably Caxton, but they may both be representative printers.
On the ground behind Caxton is a typecase, which in those days would have held both capitals and minuscule letters. Only later did compositors get tired of faffing about sorting out the letters and stored them in separate cases, one for the capitals and another, the lower case, for the minuscules.
Nowadays we still call minuscule letters 'lower case', correctly, but it is WRONG, yes TOTALLY WRONG, to refer to capitals as 'upper case'.
I don't know why this annoys me so much.
The world these carvings represent has vanished totally. The printers have disappeared and the newspapers are fast following them down the plughole of destiny. Pemberton House itself has been converted into flats for bankers and lawyers. We live in degenerate times.