If you have been into Piccadilly in London’s West End recently, you might well have walked over brightly coloured pedestrian crossings and wondered what’s it all about. Well, it’s ‘The Piccadilly Art Takeover’, which started on 21st July and is a unique partnership between the Royal Academy of Arts and Art of London, and has been supported by Sky Arts, Piccadilly Lights, Westminster City Council and the Mayor of London.
From now until 31st August 2021, the area around Piccadilly has been transformed with 13 pedestrian crossings and 30 hanging flags, which are in fact the most art crossings in one place ever seen in the UK.
Five artists associated with the Royal Academy were selected to bring original, bespoke and vibrant art to Piccadilly Circus and the surrounding area. The artists include Michael Armitage, Vanessa Jackson RA, Isaac Julien CBE RA, Farshid Moussavi OBE RA and Yinka Shonibare CBE RA. The five artists were allocated a specific area in Piccadilly to design, where they could choose to repurpose an existing artwork or create something completely new.
30 hanging flags positioned along the cultural hub of Piccadilly have been designed by Michael Armitage, Farshid Moussavi OBE RA and Yinka Shonibare CBE RA. Despite all three artists having their own very distinct and different backgrounds and mediums, all of their chosen pieces work in perfect harmony, with the tones, shapes and designs complementing one another in a celebratory sequence of colour.
Michael Armitage commented:
“Three of my images have been used for flags that will hang over Piccadilly. One is made from a painting honouring the work of key workers in London. It’s a painting of four of the refuse collectors in Hackney, near my studio, who worked throughout the pandemic, putting themselves at risk as a result. It’s an honour to be able to celebrate the people of London, as we welcome people back to the iconic area of Piccadilly.”
Farshid Moussavi said:
“My four prints are two-dimensional representations of La Folie Divine, a curvilinear apartment block we (Farshid Moussavi Architecture) designed in Montpellier, France. The pinks and yellows are inspired by the season of summer and, as visitors to Piccadilly walk down the street, they’ll see the shades changing slightly from one canvas to another.”
While Yinka Shonibare added:
“The first thing I thought of when I was invited to put work in Piccadilly was the famous Eros statue, so my very colourful flags are inspired by that. The real name of the statue is Anteros, which means requited love. The statue is shooting an arrow, but I changed this in my design to be shooting a rose. The idea of the rose is to express the love to people who want to come to London and how the city embraces them. With this commission we want to embrace and welcome people back.”
Filmmaker and installation artist, Isaac Julien CBE RA, has designed the work that’s on display on the 780 sqm Piccadilly Circus screens, choosing to showcase Lessons of the Hour, a poetic meditation on the life and times of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, which features British actor Ray Fearon.
Meanwhile, British painter, Vanessa Jackson RA, has created those 13 pedestrian crossings in her distinctive abstract collage style which has transformed the area and display the playful transposing of her paintings and evoke the movement and joy of dancing. The crossings have been created using Decomark, a prefabricated material that is environmentally friendly and resistant to fading.
Vanessa Jackson commented on her colourful pedestrian crossings by saying:
“In the crossings, which I’ve called ‘UpTownDancing,’ there’s an interaction in the colours and forms. I was trying to be a little bit electric and to keep it animated because I like to dance, and experience is an animated thing. I think this takeover will be great fun for everybody, and personally I’m looking forward to people not just walking across my pavements – like Abbey Road – but actually, I hope they’ll be dancing.”
Mark Williams, Director of Art of London, commented:
“The West End is a historical cultural district for London, packed with attractions that draw locals and tourists alike in their droves. Sadly, the pandemic has hit the community hard, and it has had to fight to survive.
It’s Art of London’s hope, with the launch of the Art of Summer Season, to encourage people back to the West End with original, bespoke and exciting artistic initiatives that celebrate everything the district has to offer, and the resilience and passion that makes it so special. The Piccadilly Art Takeover aims to bring art to the masses with a gallery without walls, encouraging participation, inclusion and celebration of art in every form.”
Ros Morgan, Chief Executive at Heart of London Business Alliance, added:
“It is more important than ever to have spaces in the West End that people want to come back to, particularly as footfall from workers and tourists picks up. Some people will understandably need some encouragement and expect an improved and different experience in the capital’s cultural heartland.
Part of this changing West End experience is the idea of bringing culture on to the streets and integrating art into the built environment. The Piccadilly Art Takeover is part of Heart of London’s long-term strategy to reset the relationship between businesses, members of the public and the local cultural institutions.”
This gallery without walls is the launch of the Art of London Summer Season, which is a three month programme of activity celebrating art in every form across London’s West End, including the Augmented Gallery, several Pop-Up Exhibitions, new additions to the Scenes in the Square statues trail and more to be announced at a later date.
These colourful installations also form part of the Let’s Do London campaign, which is a £7m initiative launched by the Mayor of London, Visit London, Transport for London and the tourism industry.
The Piccadilly Art Takeover, in partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts and Art of London, runs from the 21st July to 31st August 2021. Please visit www.artoflondon.co.uk for further details on their season of public art.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man On The Ground, a member of The British Guild of Travel Writers and professional photographer.
Photographs courtesy of Heart of London Business Alliance