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Big Love In London

July 31, 2017




I visited St Pancras International and Kings Cross London. 


lots to see in the newly done up, formerly notorious, Kings Cross area. High end hotels where 20 years ago you could hire rooms by the hour for nefarious purposes if that was your bag. Now home to Google, St Martin’s school of art and an ever expanding list of restaurants, bars and what nots  such as the German Gymnasium restaurant which is housed in the splendid Victorian ex German Gymnaisum(where else). I think this building  hosted the first modern Olympics even before the French restarted that great tradition. 


Despite the multimillion redevelopment It is still the Victorian buildings that give this area heart and soul (we depend too much on the Victorians. I wonder what our architectural legacy will be? - if any of it lasts long enough to be judged by our great grandchildren). 




The Maginficent Kings Cross Station, once hemmed in by buildings that stopped you getting a good look at its frontage, is now once again opened up and can be seen in all its glory. 



As I am a contrarian (its never done me any good but I can't shake the habit/ingrained character flaw) the first work of art in this blog about figurative 3D art will of course be the non figurative and sublime Henry Moore statue "Large Spindle Piece" which stands in Kings Cross Square and is on long term loan from the Henry Moore Foundation. 




Like all great art you can look at it time and again and it will continue to nourish. I've walked past it so many times and was pleased to give myself the chance to really look this time. It won't be the last. 


I didn't go into Kings Cross ( I'm not going to add the apostrophe so there) just yet but walked the 2 minutes to St Pancras Internation. I will say that again, St Pancras International. It might be easy to become blase about traveling to France via the channel tunnel but wow what a wonder it is to go from central London to the centre of  Paris without flying or getting wet. 


St Pancras Chambers, George Gilbert Scott's marevelous Victorian extravaganza and wonder of the world, is one of the reasons i decided to live in London. I stumbled upon it over 20 years ago before it's expensive refurbishment and was gob-smacked. To live in a city where you can just by chance bump into such genius around a random corner is an honour and I'm still getting a kick out of living and working here almost a quarter of a century later. 



It is impossible not to be thrilled by this building yet they wanted to knock it down in the 1960's and god knows what they would have put in its place? A concrete dullness soon to be hated by everyone who lives and works around here. I'll come on to this a bit later but for now I walked into the station just behind the chambers through the magnificent entrance (what is it about doorways/entrances ? I've always been excited turning a corner, bolting through an open door to find a strange new world)  




and like the famous scene when Charlton Heston rounded that headland  in Planet of the Apes to see a giant statue I came across this...



 This statue, "The Meeting Place"  commonly known as "The Lovers" is a 9 metre (thats an awful lot of metre) bronze statue by Paul Day and is one of the first things you seen when getting off the train from Paris. These ordinary lovers in an intimate yet public (surely this defines so much of both travel and of viewing public art) embrace has divided opinion. The sculpture says the public love it and the art world, critics, directors of renown institutions, hate it. Personally I love it. 


We say we have guilty pleasures but that is a vain and patronising statement ( i like led Zep but the great me condescends to like Tiffany/Britney, Agadoo, het-cetora, het-cetora het-cetora). This is pleasure and delight pure and simple.


What I like about it is the size and the subject matter. Yes size matters, a ginormous cup cake becomes more interesting than a cup cake. These two ordinarily dressed, ordinary lovers, embracing as they depart/meet again, depart/meet again, move me. Perhaps because i’m not used to seeing ordinary people, dressed in ordinary clothes honoured in monumental statues; its usually ancient Egyptians, great men, queen victoria and greek myths. We are shy of representing ourselves. I wonder if this is because many artists try their best to be anything but ordinary and politically the hard left and far right damaged the reputation of gigantic depictions of  that great abstaction - “the people”.


Any hows here I am looking at the largest pair of high heels i’ve ever seen, ditto back pack and high street clothes and not a royal, nymph or triumphant general in sight and i like it and am uplifted and heartened which is what i need when travelling. This doesn't stop me/anyone from enjoying Tracey Emin aswell. Art criticism seems to bash around the same tired, limited categorisations: popular, avante garde (not to be confused with garde du norde ), shocking, banal etc. The great Zadie Smith called this "moronic art speak" and I guess I would agree with her. Using banal language and ideas to call art you don't like banal is a bit, well, banal. "Lets have a heated debate" as the late Mrs Merton used to urge. 



 It gets even better when i look at the plynth. There are various life like vingettes, all about six or seven inches in height, that depict different types of passenger, broad bottomed mothers, soliders,  a lover checking her mobile during a less than passionate embrace, workmen, even a pet dog (rubbed smooth by passers by as is the woman's bum). Witty and poinant but not sentimental and also overlooked by art critics when they review the statue, these are delightful depictions and made me and a few other people laugh. A counter point to the grandure of the main piece. 




Sir John Betjeman 


Award for best pot belly in any figurative art. This wonderful man, carrying what looks like a shopping bag, looking up to the sky is sweet and affable as the best uncles and like the best uncles he was also much more than this.


Sir John’s statue is here as he played a leading role in Saving St Pancras Chambers from the bulldozer. I sh1t you not. IN the 1960s Victorian architecture was scorned as being vulgar and perhaps as much to atone for the sins of Victorian Imperialism as for its twirly mad, happy, confident exuberant aesthetic, they wanted to knock it down. Yes to knock it down. I can imagine the concrete boredom they would have replaced it with:  a soul withering nothingness praised in architectural magazines at the time but hated by everyone else.



Back over the road to Kings Cross 


Last but not least in Kings Cross there is a statue to a mechanical engineer. I once met a Polish chemist during a visit to Warsaw who praised Manchester for having a statue of a chemist (Dalton) as it was far more usual to have statues of artists, writers etc rather than scientists, particularly the applied sciences. So here we have a statue of  a mechanical engineer. Without engineers of all types we wouldn't get very far, yet as they aren't sexy or cool (hello engineering students everywhere you know who you are), they are often overlooked. Of course thats not the point of them. The point is to shape the world. 



Sir Nigel Gresley (1876-1941), Chief Mechanical Engineer working out of Kings Cross, desgined locamotives at once powerful and elegant. A Poet of steel and coal we salute you. 



A quick look at the long queue for the Harry Potter platform and I was on my way home. I hope you enjoyed my first outing. Posts will be coming thick and fast at least once a week for the next while so drop by again. 




In my next posts I'll be looking at hyper realism, Chatsworth House, local sculptures and more ideas for using sculpture in your home. 












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