London’s Most Curious Public Artworks

By Londonist Last edited 15 months ago
London’s Most Curious Public Artworks

London always has some kind of temporary public art project on the go, from bus art trails to knitted phone boxes, Books about Town and Talking Statues. They encourage us to pay closer attention to the city we live in, but what about the host of unseen art that permanently adorns the streets of our capital? Here we recommend the best places to explore some of London’s most impressive works of art, without setting foot in a gallery.

Bertrand Lavier's fountain. Photo by Tristan Fewings.

Serpentine Sackler Gallery Fountain

Not quite the ornate water feature that you would expect to find in the grounds of one of London’s most prestigious art venues, but this playful installation devised from a mass of unruly garden hoses, secures the gallery’s position as a destination venue for modern and contemporary art. Artist Bertrand Lavier was keen to continue his signature sculptures devised using reclaimed everyday objects. As art reflects life, it won’t take you long to recognise every garden hose you’ve ever owned in the collection, with contributions ranging from a dribble to a jet. For those of you wincing at such a shameful waste of water during the hot weather, fear not. The fountain’s water source is consistently recycled making it one of London’s lucky hosepipes sure to escape a ban. Head to Kensington Gardens, W2

The Other Side facade at Chelsea Arts Club by Morganico. Photo by Robert Kennedy.

Chelsea Arts Club Frontages

Housed in two usual cottages with an ever-changing facade, Chelsea Arts Club continues to challenge the visual harmony of its well-heeled neighbours, just as it did when it was created back in 1901. Established originally to serve as a meeting place for the growing artistic community, this eccentric members club, set amongst gated mansions and independent boutiques, continues to support social interaction in the art world through hosting their twice-yearly themed balls. Originally designed to rival the Quartz Arts balls of Paris and Rome, the balls are so extravagant they take months to organise. This year’s Summer Ball saw the club’s unique frontage transformed into a retro 60’s sci-fi space theme, dotted with planets and a galaxy of stars. Previous facades have featured WW2 dazzle camouflage and fantasy worlds. Sadly artists, poets and musicians who are members here, have a bit of a wait in store until the next incarnation. The next few months will see the club reinvent itself all over again, just in time for New Year’s Eve. Head to 143 Old Church Street, London, SW3

Aluna Time by Laura Williams.

Mechanical Sculptures

Despite being home to London’s only lighthouse and one of Docklands’ most historic sites, Trinity Buoy Wharf still feels like a backwater. This quiet promontory where the River Lea joins the River Thames, might still have the feel of London’s lost village, but it serves as the perfect backdrop to artist Andrew Baldwin’s unusual Sculpture Park. After 28 years as a Master Blacksmith and Welder, Baldwin began to use his trade to create a host of figures and moving machines, a selection of which can be seen at various points around the Wharf. Clockwork Woman and Exploding Man are typical of his style, each appearing in chaos yet slowly and mechanically resolving themselves by the end of the show. Visit at weekends (7am - 6pm) for your best chance to see the work in action, alongside Laura Williams’ Alunatime, London’s first public moon and tide clock. Head to Trinity Buoy Wharf, 64 Orchard Place, E14

Alfred Salter's cat. Photo by Roll The Dice, from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Statue of Alfred Salter

If you’re sitting down to enjoy the views from peaceful Bermondsey Wall, take a minute to give a sideways glance, and you might just find a piece of treasured art sitting right next to you. ‘Dr Salter's Daydream’ was originally created in 1991 by artist Diane Gorvin as a tribute to Dr Alfred Salter, a medical practitioner who dedicated his life to providing free health care for the slums of Bermondsey in the nineteen century. This philanthropic effort earned Salter the status of a local hero, so when bronze thieves stole the statue in 2011, it caused quite a stir, prompting a high profile campaign to raise over £60,000 for it’s replacement. The latest version of the statue now sits perched upon a wall. It also features accompanying statues of his beloved wife Ada, their daughter Joyce (tragically lost to scarlet fever in 1910) and the trusted family cat. Head to Bermondsey Wall East, SE16

Northala Fields. Photo by Londonist.

Northala Fields

If I told you to follow a maze of subways underneath one of London’s busiest arterial roads and you’ll be rewarded with West London’s answer to Teotihuacan in Mexico, would you believe me? Opened in 2008 and devised of four distinct mounds, this monumental park was developed by artist Peter Fink and architect Igor Marko using 65,000 lorry loads of construction waste from across the capital (including rubble from the old Wembley Stadium). Follow the joggers and strollers up the winding spiral path of the largest hill and be treated to spectacular views on (almost) all sides (ignore the rumbling A40 to the South West). Surrounding this unusual landmark is a gift of a country park for West London, with streams and wetlands for model boating, fishing and wildlife, two children’s play areas, a free ping pong table and network of cycle paths that are flat enough for the whole family to cycle. Head to Kensington Rd, Northolt, UB5

Peace Carnival Mural. Photo by Kath from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Hackney Peace Carnival Mural

At least 20 years before neighbouring Shoreditch became the capital of London’s street art scene, down the road in Hackney, a modest group of artists were commissioned to create 6 peace murals under the theme ‘Peace through Nuclear Disarmament’. The Cold War features heavily in Ray Walker’s 1983 carnival-inspired design, and although the relevance of the message has faded, the significance of the mural remains. Standing proud just yards from the busy new Overground station at Dalston Junction, this spectacular piece of public art is a celebration of the heart and soul of Hackney. A colourful and vibrant community, strong in its identity and at home amongst the tree-lined Victorian streets. What’s more, thanks to the work of artists Paul Butler and Linda James, this memorable mural has been lovingly restored for generations of peace-loving Londoners to enjoy. Head to 15 Dalston Lane, E8

By Phillipa Ellis

Last Updated 02 November 2016

Matthew Rees

The Dalston peace mural is a little too obvious for this selection. There are much more obscure and interesting wall paintings in Brixton for example.

MattFromLondonist

I nominate this mad sculpture of Queen Liz https://www.flickr.com/photos/...

Juno

Am I hallucinatng, or were the Northala Fields briefly some sort of dry ski slope?

ASLEF shrugged

This is "The Railway Tree" by Malcolm Robertson, 1996. It's supposed to "symbolise Stratford as a focal point of arrival and departure" back when it was a bit of a dump and the idea of the Olympics coming there was unimaginable.

We call it "The Rhubarb".

HHGeek

So obvious I'm surprised it's not been included: the Isle of Dogs traffic light tree. Confusing the crap out of unsuspecting drivers since 1998.