Above: A small part of the striking art to be found on the wall of one of the platforms.
We are never very far from public art in London – with plenty of sculptures and an abundance of wall-art. One of the capital’s largest sponsors of art is London Underground and one of the most colourful examples is to be found at Tottenham Court Road Underground Station. The station has been closed for a few years while its interior was rebuilt to form new interchanges with the Northern Line, the Central Line and the new Crossrail Line (to be known as the Elizabeth Line, which will run with ‘full sized’ railway carriages).
The colourful glass mosaics, by British artist Eduardo Paolozzi, cover no less than 950 square metres of the walls at the underground station. They were commissioned in 1979 and completed in 1986. The mosaics reflect Paolozzi’s interpretation of the local area and his wider interest in mechanisation, urbanisation, popular culture and everyday life.
The artwork originally decorated the arches at the top of the escalators leading from the platforms as well as being a prominent feature of some of the walls on the platforms. A completely new entrance and ticket hall has been built to accommodate the large increase in passengers using the station when Crossrail open in 2018. This has meant that the artwork around the arches had to be removed.
Above: Another art-covered wall beside a platform. Part of the design represents a saxophone – sold by several shops in nearby Denmark Street.
All the mosaics were removed from the station early in 2015. The decorative arches over the escalators were part of Paolozzi’s design scheme for the station but they had to be dismantled as part of the £400m Crossrail redevelopment of the site, leading to a public outcry and an online petition signed by more than 8,000 people. It is the decoration around the arches that will probably be missed the most. The remaining murals have been restored and cleaned and have been newly displayed since February of 2017.
Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) was a Scottish sculptor. As a student, he studied at Edinburgh College of Art in 1943. He later became a visiting professor. Paolozzi, who died at the age of 81 in April 2005, grew up in Leith, Edinburgh, and was one of Britain’s most prolific 20th century artists and sculptors. He was knighted in 1989, was a Royal Academician and Her Majesty’s sculptor in ordinary for Scotland.
The mosaics over the arches at the top of the old escalators have been given to Edinburgh College of Art where they will be restored and cleaned before going on public display. It was the College who stepped in to save them.
About 95% of Paolozzi’s mosaics at Tottenham Court Road Station have been retained. Where possible, original tiles have been reused. When new tiles were required, there was a meticulous colour matching process with the oversight of the Paolozzi Foundation. The mosaics in corridors between platforms and sections of the rotunda area of the station have remained undisturbed but they have been cleaned. One of the final and most complex aspects of the project was the relocation of the striking mosaic panel from the former Oxford Street entrance. Following intensive planning and consultation with conservation experts, the artwork was carefully removed from the wall in one piece and lowered down a lift shaft to begin its new life at platform level.
According to Transport for London “Paolozzi’s designs at Tottenham Court Road capture urban industrial reality of the late 20th century; cogs, pistons and wheels whirr through the station. Cameras, saxophones and electronics reference the music and technical shops of Soho. Egyptian images were inspired by the nearby British Museum, and butterflies are included as the artist’s recollection of Turkish Baths. The Rotunda space features more representational imagery, a ‘running man’ Orwellian commuter, ethnographic masks and mechanical cow and chicken, a representation of modern urban life”.
In addition to the Paolozzi murals at this underground station, other new additions of public art include works by Douglas Gordon, Richard Wright and Daniel Buren.