London's public art: 10 famous artworks you won't find in a gallery



2017-07-11 14:26:14

You don't have to visit an art gallery to see works by world famous names in London.

You just have to look around you.

Here are 10 of the best to seek out, or stumble upon, as you prefer.

Stik's Big Mother, Acton

Image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you've flown into Heathrow airport recently, you may have spotted Stik's enormous graffiti work on the side of Charles Hocking House, a condemned block of flats.

Using a hoist for a month, the renowned French street artist created the 40-metre-high piece of social commentary in his trademark line-drawing style.

“The mother and child symbol are a representation of the family that live in this block," he told the Independent newspaper.

“The figures that I have painted are looking down sadly at their neighbourhood which is being developed with luxury apartments and this building is being demolished.”

Charles Hocking House is still standing for now (complete with mural). But you only have until Summer 2018.

Nearest tube: Acton Town

What to do while I'm in the area? Kew Gardens isn't too far away.

Auguste Rodin's The Burghers of Calais, Westminster

Image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

A Rodin on the streets of London? It's true. The Burghers of Calais, one of 12 casts produced by the mighty French sculptor, has stood in the gardens close by the Houses of Parliament since 2010.

Finished in 1889, it is Rodin's praise of the everyday hero.

What's it all about? Six locals from Calais gave themselves up to be executed when the English besieged the city in the 14th century. They thought their deaths would ensure the city was spared. In the event, Edward III released them, at the behest of wife, Philippa of Hainault.

French law commands that no more than 12 Rodin casts of each of his works can be made.

Nearest tube: Westminster

What to do while I'm in the area? If you come on a Wednesday you can attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament.

Henry Moore's West Wind, Westminster

Image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

There are Henry Moores throughout London. The much-loved Tower Hamlets bronze Draped Seated Woman (known to all as Old Flo), will be making a welcome return home (well, to Canary Wharf at least) this autumn after a 20 year sabbatical in Yorkshire.

But we've chosen Henry Moore's first public commission, West Wind, as our piece to visit.

A 30-year-old Moore carved the relief on the sixth floor of the new London Underground headquarters of 55 Broadway in the late 1920s.

It was one of eight 'wind' works carved by prominent sculptors on the building. It brought Moore's name into the public consciousness and may have even helped him win future wife Irina's hand in marriage. Moore took her on an early date to watch him carving the work, which is heavily influenced by Michelangelo's figures in the Medici Chapel, Florence.

Nearest tube: St James's Park

What to do while I'm in the area? On certain weekends, you can take a tour inside the Grade I listed building that is 55 Broadway – once London's tallest office block and today an art deco time capsule.

London Underground moved out in 2015 and the building is being turned into luxury flats.

Damien Hirst's Sensation, Cody Dock, east London

Image: The Line Image: The Line

What is it? It's 3mm of human skin – recreated on large scale by the serial agitator that is Damien Hirst.

Where is it? You'll find the 2003 work at Cody Dock, a once derelict (but now creatively thriving) little quarter on the banks of the River Lea. 

Nearest tube: Canning Town or Bromley-by-Bow.

What to do while I'm in the area? The sculpture forms part of The Line – a three-mile walking tour of 30 modern and contemporary al fresco artworks through east London, from Stratford's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to Greenwich's O2 Arena.

Antony Gormley’s ROOM at the Beaumont Hotel, Mayfair

Image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

Antony Gormley's Quantum Cloud is also on The Line tour, but we prefer his bizarre ROOM – a sculptural appendage to Mayfair hotel the Beaumont.

The hotel's art deco interiors are wonderful in themselves, but it's Gormley's addition where the real fun starts.

From the outside it's a 2014 sculpture of a crouching Gormley, on the inside it's the "intimate" bedroom of one of the hotel's suites.

How intimate? Well, just four square metres of floor space. But the hotel is putting a positive spin on things:

"The interior is approached up nine white marble steps, separated by a black velvet curtain from a pure white marble bathroom," it explains.

And just wait until you get inside.

"A dark, mysterious, cave-like space, encouraging the occupant to enter a different state of consciousness, to enjoy at the very least a meditative pause, and the chance to withdraw, for a while, from the busy world outside."

Nearest tube: Bond Street

What to do while I'm in the area? Stay the night. Expect to pay around $2,000 for the privilege of falling asleep inside Antony Gormley. Light continental breakfast included. Regular rooms are around $500.

Barbara Hepworth's Winged Figure, Oxford Street

Image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

A visit to London's genteel Dulwich Park was always enhanced by the sight of Hepworth's 1970 work Two Forms (Divided Circle).

That came to an end in 2010 when the £500,000-insured structure was stolen overnight by scrap metal thieves.

But here's a Hepworth the thieves have missed.

Look up the next time you're shopping on Oxford Street. On the side of the John Lewis department store you'll spot Hepworth's 1963 work Winged Figure, an enlargement of a 1957 piece.

Hepworth produced the 1963 version, said to resemble a boat's hull, especially for the recently opened building, after biggest British sculptor of the day Jacob Epstein had declined the opportunity. It was her second effort – John Lewis had turned down her earlier Three Forms in Echelon.

"I think one of our universal dreams is to move in air and water without the resistance of our human legs," Hepworth said of the work when it was unveiled.

"I wanted to evoke this sense of freedom. If the Winged Figure in Oxford Street gives people a sense of being airborne in rain and sunlight and nightlight I will be very happy."

It's said to be seen by 200 million people each year, although how many of those 200 million realise what they're looking at is another matter.

Nearest tube: Oxford Circus

What to do while I'm in the area? Buy some haberdashery at John Lewis ("never knowingly undersold").

Richard Serra's Fulcrum, Broadgate 

Image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

There are few parts of the world Serra's sheet metal works haven't touched. And London is no different.

By far the largest and most famous of Broadgate's many sculptures is his 17-metre-high work, which stands close to Liverpool Street Station.

Serra created it specifically for the small space he had available – so, like all London architects, he built upwards.

Even Broadgate's own website recognises the divisive quality of Serra. "Without doubt, the art equivalent of Marmite," it says of the 1987 work.

Nearest tube: Liverpool Street

What to do while I'm in the area? Go al fresco ice skating at Broadgate Ice Rink (winter months only).

Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaics at Tottenham Court Road tube station

Image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

Unveiled in 1986, the renowned pop artist's colour-bursting mosaics are a familiar feature to bleary-eyed Central and Northern line commuters.

Look closely to spot local features, including the saxophones, cameras and electronic gadgets of the shops in the area – as well as a humorous depiction of frantic commuters.

In 2017, the mosaics received a long-overdue spruce up.

"Paolozzi's work is an important part of the station's heritage, and we have worked hard to retain and restore the mosaics at Tottenham Court Road so they can continue to be enjoyed by customers," said Mark Wild, London Underground's managing director.

Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road

What to do while I'm in the area? Also check out Daniel Buren's new mosaics at the same station. And while you're down below, why not travel around to view more of the art of the Underground?

Banksy's Falling Shopper, Mayfair

Image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

Bristolian Banksy has been prolific in London, although most of his works are quickly painted over. A few have survived. Our favourite is this take on "shop til you drop" on Bruton Street, Mayfair.

It's sufficiently high up to have evaded council cleaners, so far.

Nearest tube: Green Park or Bond Street

What to do while I'm in the area? Enjoy the quiet retreat that is Berkeley Square Gardens. It's where Jeeves and Wooster live you know.

The Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square

Image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

London's most famous location for public art.

Built in 1841 for a statue of William IV that never materialised, the Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth lay empty for 150 years.

Since 1998, 11 temporary sculptures by world famous artists have adorned it. It's presently inhabited by Turner prize nominee David Shrigley's Really Good - a large thumbs up. 

“What this represents is so important: optimism, positivity, the best of us," said London mayor Sadiq Khan, admirably refusing to countenance any potential of irony in the work, when unveiling Really Good in September 2016.

"Particularly post-Brexit, the three most important words I say are ‘London is open.'"

Next up, in 2018, is Michael Rakowitz's The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, a recreation of a sculpture destroyed by ISIS in 2015.

Nearest tube: Charing Cross

What to do while I'm in the area? Visit the National Gallery for some great indoor art.

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