Wednesday, September 10th 2014
Though our New York trip is done and dusted, we have the rest of the week free and want to use it from some less strenuous wanderings. We started today by going down to King’s Cross Station to find breakfast.
We found breakfast in King’s Cross Departures. Like many modern stations, King’s Cross combines its railway functions with a shopping mall for extra revenue. The arboriform support structure is both intriguing and, I think, beautiful. When not illuminated, it is pure white but projectors with coloured filters often light it up, either with a steady colour or a sequence of changing colours. Today it was sporting a rainbow effect.
The area in front of the refurbished King’s Cross Station has been cleared (and then, unfortunately, cluttered up again with a fast food outlet) to make a public square. A large piece of sculpture has been installed here but there is no plaque informing us of the title or the name of the artist. When it first appeared, Tigger reckoned it was by Henry Moore but I said no, it didn’t look like a Moore to me. I looked it up and it turns out that Tigger was right (bonus points!): it is indeed by Henry Moore. It was made in 1974 and is entitled Large Spindle Piece. I took pictures of it from 4 different angles and you can see these as a slide show by clicking on the picture above.
When people sit or lean on public works of art, it means that the object has become accepted as part of the environment. That is a good thing, I think, though it can be frustrating for the photographer unable to get a clear shot of it!
The area in front of the station is now called King’s Cross Square and it is already a place where people gather, whether while waiting for a bus, coming to meet someone or simply taking a rest and watching the world go by. As well as people, there are pigeons, of course, and other birds such as starlings that make a living from scavenging on human leftovers. The pigeons are born, live as best they can and die on the streets of the city. I think they deserve to be called Londoners as much as the people do.
We took a bus ride down City Road, built in the 18th century and one of the main arteries into London, getting off near the City Road Basin. Together with the Wenlock Basin, this onetime dock participated in the trading activities of the Regent’s Canal to which it is still connected. Today, though, it serves a quieter purpose as an amenity for the surrounding buildings that are now residential. The only craft moving on the waters now are kayaks from the Islington Boat Club.
Last year, there was a heavy infestation of duckweed with many rivers and lakes completely covered with a green layer. It doesn’t seem so bad this year but in the above photo you can see how duckweed has collected in the corner of the basin.
Near here is the Eagle pub. It is really in a street called Shepherdess Walk but is so close to the main thoroughfare that it can be thought of as being in the City Road. Associated with it is the rhyme
Half a pound of tupenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.
Up and down the city road,
In and out the Eagle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.
The Eagle in the rhyme is actually an earlier pub, also called the Eagle, that was built on the site in 1821 and included a music hall among its entertainments. The present pub is Victorian/Edwardian, dating from 1901. The rhyme, which is known to have existed by no later than 1853, is said to consist of words that were composed to fit a popular dance tune of the period. The meaning of the refrain, Pop! goes the weasel, is not known, a fact that has not prevented the invention of many ingenious theories!
On the corner of City Road with Westland Place stands a Victorian pub called the London Assurance. Or rather, what was once a pub and is now an antiques business. I have not been able to find out anything about the pub or its unusual name, though it ceased to operate as a pub long ago. Its design suggests to me that it was built during the later Victorian period, say the 1880s or 1890s, though I could be wrong, of course. In its day it was obviously a good, solid old-fashioned boozer. These days the antique fireplaces you can see inside are not part of the fabric: they come from somewhere else and are for sale.
The area around the eastern stretch of Old Street (east of the Old Street roundabout), is a prime area for street art. We had noticed when travelling along the street by bus that there were some new works so we went to have a look. I photographed a few of the paintings that we saw. Above is an untitled painting by Roes, an active artist though somewhat elusive in the sense that I have found out next to nothing about him. You can see some more of his works on Global Street Art.
This picture of an unfortunate donkey who is being pulled two different ways at once is by an unknown artist (unknown to me, that is1). The images are stylized but competently drawn. The man on the left seems to have lost his trousers and to be wearing just his Y-fronts.
This picture has been in place for quite some time, as you can see from the added graffiti. I call it “Roa animal” because this furry beast seems to be a favourite of the artist and occurs in many pictures by him. To be honest, I don’t know what species it is. Roa has an international portfolio and distance is no object to him. We found a painting by him in Berlin, for example, but he travels more widely than that. His preferred subject is animals and he portrays all sorts but this rodent appears often, alone or in groups. You will find something about Roa on Street Art Bio.
This painting by Mauro Pallotta, who also goes by the contracted form of his name, Maupal, speaks for itself, I think. It has been described as a hommage to her Magesty [sic] the Queen of England but that, surely, is proffered with tongue in cheek. We see the Queen in the lotus position and levitating, seemingly floating on a cloud of steam rising from a teapot and tea cup. Behind her is a London Underground roundel, of the sort used to display station names, but containing the oft-announced phrase “Mind the gap”, partially obscured by the floating Queen. You will find the artist’s Web site under the title Mauro Pallotta Contemporary and Street Artist.
By using a corner in a fence and including two items of street furniture, Amara Por Dios has created an almost three-dimensional image. While her works are varied, they show a kinship with one another such that her paintings are immediately recognizable as hers. You will find pictures of some more of her paintings on Global Street Art and a bio on her Facebook.
We went down to the Tower of London where a massive artwork is being created. I say artwork, for that is what it is, but it is also a memorial. On arriving at the tower you see red: a swelling sea of red poppies being placed one by one.
The poppies run in sinuous lines along the foot of the wall, as though, despite being still, they are flowing like a current. It is as though the Tower has a new moat, made of red flowers.
They pour from the battlements…
…and in places seem to swell like an encroaching tide.
This is an installation entitled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, in which the Tower of London commemorates the centenary of the First World War. The poppies were created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and the setting by stage designer Tom Piper. An information board tells us that “This evolving art installation is filling the Tower moat with 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies. Each one represents a British military death during the First World War, which broke out 100 years ago. The last poppy will be planted on 11 November.”
The poppies are being “planted” (if use of a hammer qualifies as planting!) by volunteers. Was it hard to recruit enough volunteers?
Apparently not, as we can see more volunteers arriving, a virtual army of them.
Poppies can be bought at £25 each (plus p&p) and proceeds will be shared out among six service charities.
An example poppy head is on show, protected by a transparent dome. The installation is very impressive and had drawn a large crowd of fascinated spectators. It is an imaginative way of commemorating the First World War and, all being well, of collecting money for the military charities.
1Street artists usually sign their work but not always. If I write “artist unknown”, what I mean is that I don’t know who the artist is. Other people will know, including other street artists who will be familiar with one another’s styles. In that sense, there are no “unknown artists”.