Saturday, April 27th 2013
I was right to remain pessimistic with regard to the weather (see Southwark Bridge to Blackfriars) because in the last couple of days the cold has returned. Today it interfered with our plans. In the end, though, things turned out better than I expected.
We had a plan to go to Pinner, as we hadn’t been there for a while, and so we took a Metropolitan Line train. It turned out to be one of the newer trains that have a flexible joint, instead of doors, between carriages, meaning that you can walk the whole length of the train. By the time we reached Preston Road, however, we were having second thoughts about the trip.
There was a nasty cold wind blowing and the thought of wandering about in the cold lacked appeal. Accordingly, we left the train at Preston Road, stood about for a while on a wind-swept platform and took a train back to town.
Unbeknownst to me, Tigger had another plan in mind. Perhaps she thought I wouldn’t be keen so she led me there without telling me what she had in mind…
We left the train at Great Portland Street and turned into that fascinating area known as Fitzrovia. Across the road Holy Trinity Church was being decorated with balloons. That may seem unusual for a church but Holy Trinity is these days better described as a former church. Designed by Sir John Soane and built in 1828, it was one of the “Waterloo Churches”, ostensibly built to celebrate the military victory of that name. By the 1930s, however, it had become surplus to requirements and has served various secular purposes since then.
In Greenwell Street, over a doorway of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital is a pair of sculpted plaques representing and girl and a boy, respectively. I rather like them but have no idea when they were made or who the sculptor was.
In Charlotte Street, at number 106, is a shop, currently belonging to Norman Lyons & Co. The building dates from Georgian times and is listed but I was intrigued by this external fixture. According to the listing, it is a 20th century object, a shop sign in the form of a dragon. The hook suggests that it is really intended as a bracket to hold a sign board or a lamp. If so, that object is long gone but the unusual dragon survives. I wonder what sort of business it advertised.
Fitzrovia is, of course, known as the location of the BT Tower. This is a well known feature of London and visible from many points but it is only when you come close to its base, as you inevitably do in Fitzrovia, that you realize its size and find it dominating the skyline wherever you go. This view is along Conway Street with Maple Street crossing at the end. The story goes that the tower, built in the early 1960s and originally called the Post Office Tower, then the London Telecom Tower and, finally, the British Telecom Tower, was considered so important strategically that its position was not allowed to be shown on Ordnance Survey maps. If this is true, then it’s rather daft as a building this big can hardly pass unnoticed. Moreover, it was designed with a rotating restaurant at the top and members of the public were for a while able to book tables in it and dine while enjoying superb views of London. Sadly, the restaurant has been closed to the public for a number of years.
We arrived at our next destination, the Woolff Galery at number 89 Charlotte Street. Now, as you may know (if you have read my comments on art in previous posts), I am something of a sceptic where modern art is concerned but I am always ready to give things a go and see how we get on. In this case, I was immediately seduced by the work displayed in the window. It seems to go by different names in different publications so I will call it the Goat. The theme of the exhibition, entitles FFOUND, is art made from found objects, used as they are or only slightly modified, and the Goat fits this theme. By Jud Turner, this work is made of metal objects such as parts from a motorcycle and discarded metal tools. Art of this kind is often called “Found Art” or art made of “repurposed” materials.
Admission to the exhibition was free and the exhibits had price tags so we assumed that photography was not allowed. As the Goat is visible from the street (and my photo is spoiled by reflections on the glass), I don’t think there is any harm in posting its picture here. For more information on Jud Turner, see here and here.
Unfortunately, for the reason stated, I do not have any other photos of the exhibition to show you but if you are interested, you can download an exhibition catalogue from here. It lists the participating artists and includes pictures of the works on show or similar works by the artists.
I have to say I was impressed by the exhibition. Our pleasure was enhanced by the curator who kindly gave us background information on some of the artists and on their works. Nothing here was dashed off in a hurry: all the works were complex and had taken time and work to produce. It is perhaps invidious to pick out individual works or artists, because every exhibit was at least “interesting”, some were arresting and a few really bowled me over. If I have to designate a favourite, then I have to pick two to share first place. The first, of course, is Jud Turner’s Goat. If I could have taken one work home, it would have been this one! The second joint favourite was a portrait by Zac Freeman. Here you will find a video about this artist.
Unfortunately, I did not retain the name of the portrait but it hardly matters. It was made entirely of found objects, many of them buttons. Go close up to the work, and all you see are these objects. You get a vague impression of a face, but that is all. Now walk away backwards from the piece and something remarkable happens: it turns into a portrait of the sitter’s face! The objects and their colours, so lumpy and disparate when see close up, from a distance melt in together to form a sharp image. I am glad to say that if you cannot see this particular portrait, you will find other examples in the catalogue and on the artist’s Webpage.
I remain a sceptic about modern art, but I admit that this exhibition opened my eyes and gave me something to think about. While some of the works may be described as “figurative”, others were definitely “abstract”, but I found that these also had something to say to me, even if the impression was not always easy to put into words.
Leaving the gallery, still in something of a daze from the art, I spotted this cigarette bin attached to the wall of the premises next door and found myself wondering for a moment whether it really was just a cigarette bin or whether it was a work of found art! No, it’s definitely a cigarette bin that needs emptying but it shows how in our day the line between art and not-art has become almost invisibly thin. (I don’t know what the smartcode says. Perhaps you do.)
There were a couple of other galleries that we might have visited but we found them closed. Perhaps we can return another time.
As well as being a fascinating district with a history behind it, Fitzrovia is also an active community whose members care about their district and environment and are never slow to express their opinion about changes and developments and to campaign to preserve their heritage. Above is a picture of the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre with, beside it, a well known and well loved mural.
I couldn’t photograph the whole mural face on because of parked cars, so had to make do with this angled shot. It will give some idea of the complete mural, though. Unfortunately, the painting has been “tagged” by vandals.
Above are shown the two main panels of the mural. Portrayed are historical figures who have a connection with Fitzrovia, including Olaudah Equiano, Marie Stopes, Simón Bolívar and George Bernard Shaw. The ship is taken from the painting by J M W Turner called The Slave Ship.
Fitzrovia has an active and informative online presence in the form of a news-blog, Fitzrovia News.
We rounded off our outing with a late lunch at Sagar in Percy Street. Sagar is a South Indian restaurant and is entirely vegetarian, meaning we can choose anything on the menu! We in fact chose Rajdani Thali (see menu) with lassi to drink. The food was tasty and well served and portions copious. A good end to an enjoyable outing.