Frank Pick’s legacy
This will be my third Blog based on Camden’s tube stations and I do feel I am becoming extremely familiar with, and rather fond of, all 17 of them.
Transport for London (TfL), formerly London Transport (LT), has always encouraged the display and use of art on the London Underground both by commissioning artwork itself, permitting various groups to display their work and unintentionally attracting graffiti both at the stations and, regrettably, on the tube trains themselves.
I shall be looking at visual art but one of the most impressive and well received art initiatives sponsored by TfL (and LT) was “Poems on the Underground” which began in 1986 and is still running today. But visual art is where I am focussing my spotlight.
London Underground has always been at the forefront of championing and recognising the importance and value of public art. This really started with Frank Pick, its Managing Director in the early 20th century, who commissioned the design of a new typeface and the reworking of the familiar roundel. Over the years, many artists and designers have been involved in all aspects of the Underground’s architecture, its train furnishings and of course posters and the specific station art works and installations.
Mark Wallinger’s Labyrinth Plaques
To mark the 150th anniversary of the London Underground in 2013, TfL commissioned artist Mark Wallinger to produce a piece of art for each of the Underground’s 270 stations. Each artwork is an enamel plaque on which is a unique labyrinth design, black on white, with a red cross. The numbering of these plaques is interesting as it follows the route taken by the contestants in the 2009 Guinness World Record Tube Challenge in setting the fastest time taken to visit all the Underground stations. The record stands at 16 hours, 20 minutes and 27 seconds. The plaques were manufactured by the same company that creates London Underground’s signage. Sometimes these plaques can be hard to find, but all are placed in publicly accessible parts of the station, and it is fun to try and spot them. This one can be seen at Belsize Park on the south bound platform.
London Underground Tube Map
Another piece of artwork that can be found in every station, and we can each build our own free collection of this art, is the pocket size London Underground tube map. This current design dated December 2020 is called “helter skelter” and is by the artist Phyllida Barlow. Again, the art was commissioned by TfL, with the first in 2004 being titled “You are in London” by the artist Emma Kay. There have been some very famous artists contributing to the series – in 2006 Yinka Shonibare, currently the coordinator of the Royal Academy’s 2021 Summer Exhibition, produced “Global Underground May”, Tracey Emin in 2012 with “The Central Line” and in 2014 Rachel Whiteread with “The Hole of London”.
Full Circle – Kings Cross & St Pancras
Another piece of art commissioned by Tfl for King’s Cross/ St Pancras underground station is, or I should say are, the stainless-steel pieces titled “Full Circle” by the artist Knut Henrik Henriksen. Following the substantial rebuilding and upgrading of the station in 2009 Full Circle Part One was installed at the end of a new concourse built for the Northern Line and was followed in 2011 by Full Circle Part Two on the new concourse for the Piccadilly Line. The art replicates the circular walls of the tube tunnels and is truncated where it meets the floor showing what we see in the tunnels, but this missing segment was then included as a feature of the wall. In the photographs above you can see these segments. The art works were fabricated by the station’s upgrade contractors from the same materials used in the construction. These are the first permanent art works installed on London Underground since the 1980’s.
Acts of Kindness
‘Acts of Kindness’ was a project by the artist Michael Landy. His idea was to celebrate and recognise everyday random acts of generosity and kindness on the tube. He asked TfL staff and tube passengers to send him stories of things they had seen, or been involved in, on the Underground and he selected a few to be displayed on Central line tubes and at stations, including this one at Chancery Lane of red paper cut outs linked together.
‘One Thing Leads to Another – Everything is Connected‘
To celebrate 30 years of the Jubilee line, Art on the Underground commissioned a series of contemporary artworks under the umbrella theme of The Value of Time to be exhibited along the Jubilee line from June 2009 to 2011. This print by Richard Long, made in a limited edition of 60,000, was the first one of this series of commissions and was given away to lucky London Underground passengers on the Jubilee line on 2nd and 3rd June 2009 from 7am to 12pm. The piece reflects the diverse landscape that the Jubilee line runs through between its end stations at Stanmore and Stratford and depicts this as the rugged landscape of Scotland’s Cairngorm mountains walked by the artist as a part of his art. I wonder how many readers of this Blog were lucky enough to obtain one of these prints? And how many of the 60,000 still survive today.
Platform for Art – Art on the Underground Edited by Tamsin Dillon
Image at top of page is the Frank Pick tribute roundel at Piccadilly Circus station, (c) Lynette Denzey, 2021