Category Archives: Art

The Nose in Admiralty Arch and the Sad Story of the Traffic Light Tree

Image: Squirmelia

When travelling round London on the bus, I prefer to sit on the top deck but only if I can sit at the front. Not only do you get a great view of rooftops, but also, if you look carefully, the sight of hidden treasures – sculptures perched on the top of buildings, roof terraces and oddities like the lighthouse at Kings Cross.  Of course you don’t have to be on the top deck of a bus to see all these glories. Many are down in the streets – if you know where to look. There are so many odd, weird, fascinating and beautiful things to see in London it’s impossible to fit them into one blog post. Today I’m going to concentrate on statues and sculptures and for these and for future posts on this topic I am indebted principally to the Shady Old Lady website.

So rich is London in these delights it’s hard to know where to start. Should it be the New-born Baby sculpture in the porch at St Martin in the Fields, the Giant Plug and Socket on the side of an electricity sub-station in Ganton Street, Soho or the Neil’s Yard Water Clock in Covent Garden where water rises, bells sound the hour and flowers appear to grow. You also need to avoid a drenching by the figure of a child who tips her water onto the unwary below.

None of these sculptures are difficult to find. Others require a little work. Not that they are exactly hidden but some are not obvious and for others you will have to travel away from the centre. In the first category, there’s the nose inside Admiralty Arch at the top of the Mall. Did you know it was there? I didn’t.  Walk into the right hand arch, look up at the left side and you’ll see it. Apparently the horse guards touch it for luck as they ride through – being on horseback they can actually reach it. While in the locality, take a stroll to The Westminster City School in Palace Street and look up at the roof of the new building. There’s you’ll find the Dandelion Sculpture created by the pupils in 2010 out of re-used plastic fizzy drinks bottles. As it catches the wind it throws colour in every direction – beautiful and ethical!

Leaving the centre of London we’re going first to Wanstead, then on the Docklands Light Railway to Silvertown and finally to the Greenwich Peninsula. This may be the wrong way round but I haven’t looked it up on Journey Planner (though they do often give you some extremely weird and illogical routes.) In Wanstead you’ll find a plaque commemorating a stolen cherry pie, in Silvertown, on the wall of the Tate and Lyle factory a giant tin of Golden Syrup and on the Greenwich Peninsula Antony Gormley’s Cloud sculpture. Even taller than the Angel of the North it was commissioned for the opening of the Millennium Dome, now the O2.

On the way back from Greenwich visit the Traffic Light Tree at Canary Wharf.  Impossible to have a favourite among so many wonderful oddities but I must confess that I find this installation really endearing. A weird term to apply to such an object perhaps, but that’s how I feel about it. Designed by Pierre Vivant it has 75 sets of traffic lights and is supposed to reflect the energy of the area. Energy is not the word I’d apply to Canary Wharf but I do love this statue – it’s quirky, mad and fun and as such it’s as far removed from the atmosphere of Canary Wharf as it’s possible to get.

And having written that last sentence I went to take another look at the web pages to select the best image. And what do I find. The Traffic Light Sculpture has been removed – to make way for road improvements. How sad, how typical. Canary Wharf is the poorer for it (there’s more than one way of being poor just as there are different ways of being rich.) If anyone knows what happened to the statue, please let me know.

Posted in Art, Blog, London, Sculpture, Strange and Unusual Sculpture, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to make statistics look amazing …

If you can ignore the rather harsh tones and persevere beyond the first few seconds, this video will open your eyes to history, health and, indeed, statistics. Truly inspiring – and should be developed further and shown in schools!

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Oh! Death where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?

I finally got to the Hayward Gallery to see David Shrigley’s first major show in London.  It was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. I’d love to cover everything here – but that would be impossible. There was so much to see and so much to think about. Many of the exhibits appear simple, childlike and quirky. And they are indeed simple, childlike and quirky, as well as being deep, a little disturbing and thought provoking. And witty and funny too.

You can’t escape death here, or life either. There’s a gravestone, for instance. It doesn’t say R.I.P.  It has no angel nor urn. No inscription states  ‘Beloved husband of ….’ or some such traditional phrase. Instead we get a shopping list, carved into the marble, picked out in gold leaf. In the midst of life we are in death. Indeed we are.  A little puppy holds up a placard stating ‘I’m dead’. There’s a dead rat, almost hidden under the skirting. A squirrel sits with its own head in its paws.

I don’t want to give the impression that this exhibition is gloomy. Far from it. It’s crazy, weird – in the nicest possible way – and fun. Death, however, has a habit of cropping up throughout, overtly or covertly.  Just as it does in the real world. The black and white cartoon of an aeroplane coming in to land has a text that reads ‘I find it hard to concentrate while performing important tasks.’ Yikes!  A bus driver states baldly ‘I can’t believe that they would let me drive a bus.’ Oops! It sets your mind spiralling off to dark and dangerous places.

This witty and wonderful artist made me think, smile and laugh out loud.  The big bad wolf in hospital, on a drip. A biscuit nailed above the lift with an unnecessarily large nail.  A bone serving as the hand of a clock.  A door, labelled ‘a door.’ A tiny little wee stick figure out on the enormous terrace.  A lost pigeon. A spy hole in the wall concealing a pinky-purple, satiny creature coiled around itself, like an intestinal worm or an elongated carrot. With a face.

If I wrote about everything I’d be here all night. As it was I took about two hours to go round, moving back and forwards, finding things I’d missed the first time. I was there so long I didn’t leave enough time for more than a sprint through the Deller exhibition, which was a pity. Even so, I’m glad I spent so much time at the Shrigley – it was well worth it. Thank you David Shrigley.

The pictures and photos reproduced here come either from the exhibition publicity or from a site, which I believe belongs to David Shrigley. I apologise if I have inadvertently infringed anybody’s copyright. Please let me know if this is the case.


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To some it’s a milk churn, to others it’s a work of art

Some years ago when I was trying to arrange to travel from London to the Jura, via Paris, I blithely told the French Railways person that I wanted to book a ticket to St. Laurent. “Which one?” she asked. “The one in the Jura,” I replied. “No” she said, being French “I need to know the name of the station.” “St Laurent,” I repeated taking a deep breath. “But which St Laurent,” came the reply?

There are, it seems, a multitude of stations with that name in France. All with a du- this or de-that, en-this or sous-that suffix. They can be found on the Riviera, in the Loire valley, in Aquitaine – all over the shop. My St Laurent is in fact St-Laurent-en Grandvaux, a small and charming town set in the Haut Jura. It has a SuperU and a bricolage place, brilliant cheese shops, because it’s France, and also great in wonderful wine cellars, for the same reason.  It also has an excellent bookshop, which sells cards and postcards as well as books.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  For it was in this bookshop that I first came across Les Bidons Sans Frontières and the photographer, Gérard Benoit à la Guillaume. His photographs make me smile. A lot. The concept is quirky and imaginative and he must have so much patience. It’s almost unnecessary to say that the English translation is ‘milk churns without borders’ or maybe ‘without limits.’  The photographs speak for themselves. Here’s a small selection, but to see the complete series go to He also takes brilliant pictures of cows, among other things. Click on his name, above, to take a look.

© Bidons Sans Frontières

© Bidons Sans Frontières

© Bidons Sans Frontières

© Bidons Sans Frontières

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