Tuesday 29 April 2014

Museum of London, London Wall EC2

Union (Horse with Two Discs) was created in 2000 by British sculptor Christopher le Brun and one of the three bronze castings placed in the entrance of the Museum of London in 2005.
Horses and discs are recurring elements in le Brun's engravings, paintings and sculptures. Here they combine slightly uneasily - from the front you can't see the horse properly and when you look round the back all you can see is its arse.
If you google the sculpture you will note a very strong propensity by photographers to shoot it side on so the discs more or less disappear, or look alarmingly as though they are cutting the horse in half.
There is a very flowery article on le Brun here.

Saturday 26 April 2014

4 Fenchurch Avenue EC3

There are two almost notable things about the bland, characterless stone-faced block that occupies the corner of Fenchurch Avenue and Lime Street: the date (1939-40, when building in London was going on average into reverse) and these very odd sailing ships that dot the facade.
Question: Are they sailing east or west?

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Old Lloyd's of London Building, Leadenhall St EC3

The old Lloyd's of London building was designed by the Imperial architect Sir Edwin Cooper in 1925, but the entrance facade is the only part to remain. At the top, the pediment is filled with a dramatic sculpture by Charles Doman representing Lloyd's insurance interests.
At the centre is a globe, circled at the equator by the signs of the zodiac. Leaning against it are a man representing shipping (the prow of a Greek galley can be seen behind him) and a woman representing commerce, with the British lion behind. At the man's feet is a wise old owl and a hive of industry is at the woman's.

Friday 18 April 2014

Museum of London, London Wall EC2

John Wesley's conversion was one of the seminal moments in English Protestantism, and is commemorated in several places including a plaque close to the site of 28 Aldersgate, where it actually happened, and this 1981 memorial close by, next to the Museum of London.
Designer Martin Ludlow created a huge sheet of paper with Wesley's diary entry for May 24, 1738 in which he describes being called by haphazard verses from the Bible that he heard during the day, and feeling his 'heart strangely warmed' at a meeting in the evening. He went on to change the world.
The text is cast in Caslon Old Face, nowadays almost unused but a particular favourite of mine. The reason is that the typefounder William Caslon was one of the three people who printed and published Wesley's Journal - their names are on the reverse.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Alban Gate,125 London Wall EC2

Tucked away in an upper walkway through the Terry Farrell-designed building that straddles London Wall is this whirling pair of dancers, though what the dance may be defies deduction. Perhaps you have to be listening to the music.
The 1992 work, Unity, was commissioned by developers MEPC from the Croatian sculptor Ivan Klapez.
It is a most awkwardly positioned artwork, in a low atrium with industrial ceilings. It is circled by a huge window which bathes it in light but makes it very difficult to photograph - either it is against the light or the background is filled with fussy office detail.
The original idea was to use a figure by Klapez called Liberty, a very tall male nude, but the artist felt the ceiling was too low to give it room to breath and suggested this dynamic X-shaped composition instead.
Klapez came to London in 1987 as the former Yugoslavia began to fall apart. He lived and worked for a while in the crypt of St George Bloomsbury, and this commission was a turning point in his career in two ways, being a prominent commission but also MEPC was sufficiently impressed to give him a five year lease on a derelict office block off Kingsway that was awaiting redevelopment .

Friday 11 April 2014

Sermon Lane EC4

The National Firefighters' Memorial had something of a journey before it reached its final resting place at the top of the grand walkway from Tate Modern to St Pauls.
It started life in 1990 as a monument to the firefighters of London who lost their lives in the Blitz (the 'heroes with grimy faces', in Churchill's memorable phrase), and was located in Old Change Court. Five years later, construction of the monster New Change building meant it was displaced to Carter Lane Gardens. The original idea was to return it to the new building but that never happened. Instead, it was moved south to its current position.
In the process, this rolling stone gathered a surprising amount of moss. The British Fire Service pressed for it to be rededicated to the memory of all firefighters that have lost their lives in the course of duty, a change that required so many more names to be added that a new, much taller plinth was needed.
Three Canadian firefighters who died on active service in the Blitz also came aboard, and the Equal Opportunities Commission wanted acknowledgement of the women auxiliaries who died also commemorated.
The original idea came from a decorated wartime fireman, Cyril Demarne, who just happened to be the father-in-law of sculptor John W. Mills. Mills took up the idea and used photos supplied by Demarne to create the composition of three firefighters hosing down a blaze. Two of them are 'working a branch', holding the hose in the correct official way to keep it under control. A sub-officer, Demarne himself, calls for assistance.
On the podium, the panels commemorating the women auxiliaries show an incident recorder and a despatch rider.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Hoorah for the Halifax!

It's not often I have a good word to say for a bank, but cycling down the Strand last night I saw something that surprised me so much I nearly ran into the back of a cab.
The trendy and rather shoddy canopy on the Halifax that used to obscure the rather nice sculpted coat of arms of the old Building Society thus...
...has been removed!
The post has been updated accordingly.

Monday 7 April 2014

Appold Street, Broadgate EC2

Mum, Dad, Child and Scotty dog are The Broad Family, by Xavier Corbero (1991). Rough-hewn from black basalt, the figures have echoes of Easter Island moai. Their massive dignity, however, is lightened by touches of humour such as the daughter's realistically carved Start-Rites peeking out from under her skirt.
Born in 1935, Corbero is a Catalan artist and sculptor who studied in Barcelona and the Central School of Art and Design. Monumental figures like these are a major strand in his work and can be seen round the world.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Finsbury Avenue Square, Broadgate EC2

This group of despondent commuters heading for home in the rain after a hard day in the office was made by American artist George Segal in 1989.
The construction was highly unusual. Segal got his models to stand very still as he encased them with plaster bandages and wire mesh. He then cut them out, no doubt to their intense relief, and rejoined the halves to form a mould from which the bronze figures were cast.
The result is a curiously defocused finish that anonymises the figures while recording their very individual postures and gaits.
There are quite a few versions of Rush Hour in galleries and sculpture parks mainly in the US, but nowhere is it more appropriately placed than on the way to Liverpool Street Station.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Exchange Square, Broadgate EC2

This is the Broad of Broadgate, a voluptuous South American lovely officially known as the Broadgate Venus. You can tell she's Venus by the apple she holds in her hand, awarded to her by Paris in the earliest recorded beauty contest. She had, you will recall, bribed him with the promise of the love of Helen of Troy. It did not end well.
She was created in 1989 by the Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero, who trained as a matador before studying in Bogota, Madrid and Italy to become an artist and sculptor specialising particularly in bullfights and larger ladies.
I think she is smashing. The Broadgate website claims she is the most popular work of art in the place, and I can see why.

Thursday 3 April 2014

The Grimaldi Building, Pentonville Road N1

This keystone, high on a building that looks like an 18th century church, is the face of the man who invented the clown - Joseph Grimaldi.
The Grimaldi Building is an office block, designed by Allies and Morrison in 1988 to replace the redundant church of St James. The church authorities had obtained planning permission for an office block in a replica of the old church, a sop to conservationists who had hoped to save the building. A&M respected that in as far as the front is a repro church, with the anachronistic addition of Grimaldi's head, though the building behind is not.
Grimaldi is buried in the old churchyard, a simple headstone with a railing. He was born in London in 1778 to a stage family, becoming a child star. He began to make the role of Clown in the Harlequinade his own, and was so successful that Clown became the principal part, elbowing out poor old Harlequin.
He is credited with inventing the clown's iconic makeup and much of the physical comedy. Indeed, his comedy was so physical he had to retire through ill health. 
In 2010 an extraordinary additional memorial was added by the artist Henry Krokatsis. It is a pair of coffin-shaped brass plates, one for Grimaldi and the other for his patron and mentor, the song-writer and composer Charles Dibdin (of Tom Bowling fame).
When you tread on the bronze plates they ring at various pitches, so you can play a tune by almost literally dancing on their graves. The notes of Grimaldi's coffin are tuned so you can play his signature tune Hot Codlins (hot codlins were toffee apples).