26 January 2016

The Venus Fountain, Sloane Square

This is the final part of my walk along Kings Road

I bet most people walk past this beautifully understated piece and don't even notice it. But, please do stop and take a look, because it's lovely.
A bronze life-sized Venus, holding a vase and pouring water from a conch shell, kneels upon a bronze vase-shaped basin decorated with a whimsical relief of Charles II and Nell Gwynn along the Thames. This sits within and above an octagonal stone pool lined with blue ceramic tiles.

It was created by sculptor Gilbert Ledward R.A. (1888-1960) and was intended to be ready for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation but, sadly, there were problems over its instalment and the deadline was not met despite the date inscription*.
It is a reference to the Kings Road which was built during Charles II's reign. Just to the west of Sloane Square was the house where Nell Gwynn, his mistress, stayed on occasion. The vase depicts the lovers seated by the Thames – Charles picks fruit from a tree, whilst Nell Gwynn fans herself. An impish cupid sits nearby with two arrows ready and a deer and hound run in the background whilst a swan swims past.
The inscription around the top of the basin reads, "Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song", from 'Prothalamion' by Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). The poem was a spousal verse written to honour a double marriage, the title meaning a song preceding the marriage ceremony.
A proposal in 2006 for Grade II listing was not approved.

*The inscription at the bottom of the basin reads: 'GLIBERT LEDWARD RA 1952', and beneath this, 'PRESENTED BY THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS THROUGH THE LEIGHTON FUND'.

19 January 2016

London Lumiere – a review

Malcolm and I decided to spend two evenings taking in as much of this event as possible.

Friday 15th January
We first went to see the installation at Oxford Circus. It was marvellous and we admired the colour-changing mesh for perhaps ten minutes and then moved off to find new things, thinking that everything would be up to that standard. But no. I think we peaked too early...

We looked for something at Liberty's. We spotted a crowd of people at a window and could make out what we think was a dress in a window. The pic shown here isn't mine; it's one from their website that was at Granary Square (see also KX later on). So we moved on to Brown Hart Gardens where some cute little bird boxes edged the upper level, but that was it. Did we miss something better?
In Grosvenor Square lots of people were queuing to get inside the square at each of the four corners. Peering over the hedges it didn't look very busy in there and from what we could see it didn't look worth the scrum, so we gave up and went to see what everyone was crowding around on the south east corner; an illuminated old telephone box containing fish. This looked good (see pic above from Lumiere website) but, again, being a small installation it was hard to get anywhere near it. Shame.

And so to Piccadilly. A Tracy Emin-style neon script saying something supposed to be clever was on each end of Piccadilly Arcade. Hmmm. We moved swiftly past and stopped to watch the colourful projection on the Bafta building. The short looped animation was good and showed famous actors and relevant motifs about them and their films, but apart from Tilda Swinton and only a few others it was really hard to make out who the people were as we were too close to view it properly even though we rammed ourselves up against the shops on the opposite side of the road. For instance, just who is that woman above left? Basically, the thing was too big. We, and the people around us, all agreed it was better to see what was going on if you watched it through a camera screen to get a better/smaller image. I thought the light well below my feet was also worthy of a pic.

I did like the lovely lanterns and flying fish kites at the eastern end of Piccadilly. Simple, mesmerising, effective and easy to see from a distance. It was this kind of thing that always made the parade at the end of The Mayor's Thames Festival such a delight.
We really enjoyed being able to walk in the road, as at Oxford Circus and Regent Street.
The loud trumpeting of an elephant pervaded the air. And above Air Street (see what I did there?!) there was an animated CGI projection of an elephant's arse swaying left and right.

We walked through to Regents Street to view the front of the elephant. The street was rammed with people watching it. I stood and wondered what the point of it was. This was a recurring thought over both evenings. I mean, what relevance did an elephant have in that place? It wasn't even a real elephant. Had it not been there in that position on that night would anyone have given it a second thought?
We forgot to look in at St James Square and somehow bypassed the light flowers at Leicester Square and headed for Trafalgar Square.

Here, the letters from the top of Centrepoint, which is being renovated at the moment, were placed against the wall of the National Gallery. Watching the people, I noticed the thing to do here was stand against it and either take a selfie or get a friend to take a shot. It's all about the me me me these days. Intrigued how all these these idiots would get would be themselves as silhouettes against the bright light (pic1) I attempted to do better myself (pic2), but found it more effective to use the lights properly (pic3).
The fountains in the square also had installations:

One was filled with empty plastic water bottles; rubbish as art. The other had two rings of light strings and some chicken wire mesh that I couldn't see the point of. Both looked as if someone had thought, quick, quick, we need to think of something for Trafalgar Square...!
At Coutts Bank, just around the corner in the Strand, there were some neon dogs that looked like bows. We couldn't see them; again, the installation was small and the crowd blocked the view. I wasn't bow-wowed.
Enough for one night. A beer in the Nellie Dean to warm up and discuss the above and then home.

Saturday 16th January
We met at Victoria and walked down to see the projection on Westminster Abbey.

WOW!  A lot of work had gone into this. Very clever. The front façade changed by the second and the sculptures of the people around the door had been carefully coloured in and then accurately projected onto the building to marvellous effect. Really beautiful. I was actually inspired; for I think that was the point of all this
And so we made our way to Kings Cross. The tube station was closed (due to over-crowding?) so we exited at Euston and mooched along with the crowds. At KX the first thing we encountered was the birdcage, a permanent feature, which had been given a simple rainbow light treatment. On the rear of the German Gymnasium (now yet another eatery; I liked it when it was an art space) there was a projection consisting of series of moving dots that on closer inspection were people in the gym. A nice idea, but it seemed to be lacking something.

There were lots of people there and it took a while to access Granary Square, but we felt it wasn't what has been reported as 'crowded'. I suspect this was just on the tube, in the station and in the narrow access sections and pathways.
A large-scale animation was being projected onto what is now St Martin's School of Art. This was like the one when Madness played Our House on Buckingham Palace for Queenie's birthday except that it had no relevance to art, Kings Cross, or much to do with London except a few tube stations and hints about Hyde Park. It was circus-themed with hybrid 2D animals and birds performing tricks. I felt it was kooky French(?) humour mixed with Peter Blake and I got bored with it about half-way thorough. Again, what was the point? Was it promoting? What was it trying to achieve?
Between the art school and Waitrose was a strange satellite dish thing; it moved around, it spun slowly, it reflected lights. The roof there is angled and so I think a lot of its impact may have been lost in that placement. The music was oooooh-aaaa and it evoked sci-fi films and having stood there for what seemed ages, we rather hoped that an alien might appear, or that lasers would shoot out from it and decapitate people. Now that would be art, and we had our cameras at the ready. But no.
Later we read that the thing reacted to movement around it. Well, had they made that clear on site perhaps people might have moved about instead of just gazing gormlessly at it waiting for something to happen.

At the northernmost point there was a neon art installation of a person diving. Hmm. Seen better. Move on. And then we found that colour-changing dress (like the one at Liberty's, mentioned above). We could only see the straps of it due to the amount of people there.
Inside St Martin's was a lovely installation – a light tunnel made from recycled plastic bottles filled with water. This really appealed to me, both artistically and ethically, and I felt I'd finally found something with a message and a function. Truly inspirational. We didn't bother queueing to walk through the tunnel as it looked so nice from the outside. Again, it was selfies-a-go-go, so I joined in.
On the walk back to the station we bypassed the colourful lights being reflected onto people though they did look good and would have been better placed in a larger environment. It reminded me of a a rave party (not that I have been to any) or that Indian festival where everyone throws paint powder, But the path was too congested so descended the stairs to he new foot tunnel that leads to the tube station.

And I like it. I think this one will remain. Seems daft if it doesn't stay cos the softly-changing coloured lights are all embedded behind white walls. Looking straight at a wall it just looks white, but look along it and see vertical panels of colour. Ooh – a vast improvement from those horrid little off-white bathroom-style mini tiles they have put everywhere else in Kings Cross tube station; they were poorly installed and have become so mucky so quickly.
And so our two evenings ended.

So, in no particular order, my favourite things were Westminster Abbey, the flying fish, the mesh at Oxford Circus, the bottle tunnel, KX tunnel, and being able to get up close to the Centrepoint lights.
Did I feel enLIGHTened by all this? Yes and no, but mainly no. Ultimately I was more impressed looking up at the beautifully-designed ceiling at Kings Cross station.

15 January 2016

Gone but not forgotten

This is a sad time of year and my heart goes out to any of you who have lost someone recently.
So many people fade away from our lives around the Christmas period and into the new year. Do they hold on for us to be able to have one more festive season?

A selection of images of London funeral parlours and headstones, plus a couple of snuffers (for extinguishing lamp lighters)
This was set up before David Bowie left us. Ashes To Ashes, funk to funky. RIP Starman.

8 January 2016

A tour of Hornsey Town Hall

Hornsey Town Hall is a wonderful example of modernist architecture. It sits behind the gardens on Crouch End Broadway between the old gas and electric stores (also constructed in the same period).
On Friday 2nd January I went on a guided tour of the internal rooms – what a delight...

Beautiful panelled rooms, original fitments, old toilets, bespoke metal and stone work and light fittings, and much more. Though I was saddened to see that some things have been only recently damaged (curtains and window handles).
Future tours listed here – all proceeds go to the upkeep of the building, the future of which is still under review as funding is needed to carry out repairs.
I was delighted to bump into Caroline who was also taking the tour that day. Read her more detailed account here.

Also worth a plug – my greeting cards featuring images of the town hall and its surrounding buildings plus details of the Crouch End area are available to buy from the Oxfam Bookshop, just around the corner in Park Road (£2.50 each, blank inside) or contact me direct (free p+p). A selection is shown below. See also here.

Hornsey Town Hall door top left.  Details from the adjacent gas and electricity buildings shown 2nd and 4th on middle row.

4 January 2016

A walk along Kings Road (part 5) leapfrog and Peter Jones

Short and sweet is this section of the walk (see previous posts for parts 1-4)

Walking East, Allister Botwell's "Two Pupils" (2002) can be found in a pedestrian side turn off Kings Road that leads to the new Duke of York Square. The leapfrogging boy and the seated girl are a reference to the Royal Military Asylum which occupied the site 1803–1909 and was opened by the 'Grand Old' Duke of York (the same fella from the nursery rhyme).
And finally we arrive at Peter Jones. Turn into Cadogan Gardens just before the store and admire the gorgeous tiled floor in the entrance there. I suspect all the entrances once had the same or similar designs, only it seems odd for there to have only have ever been this one. The building is not a uniform shape – I love the soft curves, especially at the corner.
That'll do!