"Where there is life, there is art", said Frank Pick in 1917. He was not an artist but the Managing Director of the London Underground. His approach, which is still alive today, turned the Underground into one of London’s most important patrons of the arts. Since 2000, major works can be found all over London with arts from Jacqueline Poncelet, Knut Henrik Henriksen, John Maine, and Daniel Buren. Some of these works are grand in size, like the Headquarters of the Underground at St. James Park Station, while other are much smaller, like the ‘labyrinth’ works of art, where you can find one small piece at every Tube Station. Some of these artworks are permanent while others only temporary, so no matter when you are using the London Underground you may be coming across never seen before works of art.
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St. James Station – including the historic Headquarters of London Underground
The building was designed by Modernist architect Charles Holden. The cross-shaped plan has wings in the north, south, east, and west. Eight sculptures, two on each wing, are intended to reference the ‘Winds in Athens’ ancient Greek Tower. The two carved reliefs for each wing were done by Wyon, Aumonier, Gerrard, Rabinovitch, Gill, and Moore. There are two other sculptures on the building known as ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ by Epstein. They were heavily criticized in 1929 for being indecent. Epstein’s inspiration was taken from ‘primitive’ art and the work was carved directly into the façade of the building, which was later embraced later in the twentieth century.
In 1995, painter and print maker, Robyn Denny (1930 – 2014), was commissioned to create artwork for Embankment Station. The station’s location, sitting on the bank of the Thames River, provided the inspirations for the work of art. Pieces are found on the Bakerloo, Circle line, District line, and Northern line platforms. The four different color lines are used to represent these four Underground lines that serve the Embankment station. Additionally, the red to represent the Tube train and the blue represents the Thames River. You will also find Robyn Denny’s signature on selected panels on each platform.
Tottenham Court Road Station
Tottenham Court Station has the mosaic works done in 1986 by Eduardo Paolozzi (1924 – 2005) and commissioned Daniel Buren for his works in 2016. This station is now one of London’s greatest spaces for public art.
Some of the most magnificent examples of post-war public art is that of Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaics at Tottenham Court. Paolozzi played a critical role in the development of British art in the late twentieth century. His work is featured prominently on the Northern line and Central Line platforms as an enduring legacy to his work. The glass mosaics reflect the artist’s interpretation of the local area and his wider interests in mechanization.
One of France’s greatest living artists and one of the most significant contributors to the conceptual art movement is Daniel Buren. He was commissioned in 2008 when the station underwent significant renovations. His approach focused on the makings of various spaces with the simple repeat forms: colors, diamonds, circles, and his trademark stripes, all sitting behind a wall of glass. Buren’s work creates a symbol of space and time as you move through the station.
Edgeware Road Station
Covering 1,500 m² (16,146 ft²), Jacqueline Poncelet’s, art work ‘wrapper’ is the largest vitreous enamel artwork in Europe. The artwork is visible from station platforms such as Chapel Street and Marylebone Road. The artwork is made of patterns and grids in response to the ever changing area. "A pattern not only speaks of other places, but it changes in our culture and the passage of time," Poncelet once said.
Art for everyone, every day.
I was lucky to attend the first ever tour in the London Underground. The response to the tour was a great success and they are planning future tours, but no date is confirmed at this time. All of their events are always free of charge. If you are interested in the art tour, please email [email protected]. Alternately you can visit the website for up to date information about Art on the London Underground.