All the places featured in this Stalk are now mapped on Platial.
Once in a blue Monday, Editro gives us, the grovelling unpaid writers of Londonist, permission to leave our desks and get some fresh air. But only if we get up to some London-based mischief.
Our latest nefarious task, should we choose to accept it – and we do – is to cover the length and breadth of the town, stalking famous Londoners. But here’s the twist. To avoid the long arm of her Majesty’s Constabulary, we’re not going to stalk actual people. Instead, we’re charged with hunting down the legacy left to the streets of our great city by its leading sculptors, architects, artists and other luminaries. And we kick off with one of the lesser-celebrated contributors to the London streetscape, the recently deceased Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.
Who? You might enquire. Not everyone will have heard of Paolozzi, but virtually all Londoners will have seen his work. His splendid mosaics at Tottenham Court Road Tube are the only reason to go anywhere near that dismal and overcrowded station.
If you want some background, check out Wikipedia. We’re more concerned here with what he left to London. Suffice it to say that Paolozzi (1924-2005) was a Scottish artist (obviously of Italian descent) with some claim to the invention of Pop Art. His later work, and the majority of his publicly displayed London art, took the form of metal sculptures, often combining organic and mechanical elements. Again, you’ve probably seen several of these before, but never linked them as being from the same artist. Well, that’s where we come in…
Cooling tower panels, Pimlico (1979-82).
Blink, and you’ll miss it. Never go to Pimlico (like most people) and you’ll miss it. The earliest of Paolozzi’s works to feature in the open air are these cast iron reliefs that cover a Tube ventilation shaft, just above Pimlico Station. This is classic Paolozzi. Cogs, gears, satellites, insects, anonymous machine parts: the four panels seem to depict an exploding space station. (Now we’ll never know if ants can be trained to sort tiny screws in space.) It’s not pretty, but we challenge you to find a more interesting ventilation shaft.
Piscator, forecourt of Euston Station (1980)
This isn’t one of Paolozzi’s best, but it’s not without beauty – especially at night when reflecting the sodium orange of Euston Road. After considering it for some time, we felt like giving it a hug. It sits all lonely and neglected amongst the homeless and lost of Euston. As with them, you’ve probably walked past the sculpture 100 times and never seen it. The cast iron form was made in homage to the expressionist theatre director Edwin Piscator, who barely merits a decent Google hit. An anonymous sculpture to a forgotten director in an unloved station forecourt. Ah, the pathos.
Underground murals, Tottenham Court Road Tube (1980-86)
Now these are just incredible. If you’ve never stopped to take note of the thousand square metres of mosaic, do so! Saxophones, weird machines (as always), bulls and chickens with cogs, and pure, sheer randomness. You can even pick out the Hubble Space Telescope amongst the tesserae. An impressive inclusion, given that the murals were completed four years before the launch of that magnificent machine. This is the Pimlico panels all over again, only on a much grander scale, in full colour and to the accompaniment of a lacklustre sax solo further down the corridor.
The Artist as Hephaestus, 34-36 High Holborn (1987)
Man, machine, mingled and meshed. This is, somehow, a self portrait, with the artist depicting himself in bronze as Hephaestus, blacksmith and sculptor to the Greek gods. It’s easy to miss, and even harder to photograph, set into an alcove in the hurly-burly of Holborn. And is that a banjo in his hands?
Head of Invention, Butler’s Wharf (1989)
Well, we’re not really sure what this one’s called as we couldn’t find a plaque. Anyone? Splitting Headache would seem appropriate. Like The Artist as Hephaestus, this is another impressive metal-and-flesh fusion. The slabs of iron that splice the head segments are embossed with words of wisdom, presumably from Da Vinci, who is quoted more extensively on one side. The reverse of the head is all machine, looking something akin to a printing press.
Newton, forecourt of the British Library (1995)
Just down the road from Paolozzi’s Piscator sits this incredible piece of bronze work, which shows the great scientist interrogating unseen geometries with a pair of dividers. As always, machine-like elements protrude from the body. The sculpture is modeled on the painting of the same name by William Blake. Despite his towering intelligence, it would seem Newton was clearly oblivious to the spinal benefits of using a desk. The fool.
How’s our stalking? Think we’ve missed something? And who would you like us to stalk next? Let us know in the comments.