Monday, 20 February 2017

Eduardo Paolozzi's Tottenham Court Road Mosaics

I had occasion to go to Tottenham Court Road a short while ago, and it's good to see that much of Eduardo Paolozzi's fantastic mosaics have been retained and restored at Tottenham Court Road tube station despite the disruption and redevelopments that the Crossrail project has subsequently brought with it. 

There was much controversy, as certain important segments of the mosaics have been removed because of the building work for the Crossrail extension. Thankfully the segments removed from above the top of the escalators that used to greet commuters have been saved by Edinburgh University and are being restored to eventually go on display there

Paolozzi created the mosaics in 1984, and many of them reference and depict elements of the area such as masks in the British Museum nearby. The theme of music, reflects the station's close proximity to Denmark Street's (Tin Pan Alley), musical instrument shops and the area's nightclubs. Sadly recent developments threaten to erase historic Tin Pan Alley from the area. The Astoria nightclub has already been demolished, and the former Foyles bookstore nearby will soon face a similar fate despite a petition with over 5000 signatures asking for it to be saved.

The preservation then of these mosaics is a wonderful thing. The liveliness and rhythm of Paolozzi's mosaics evoke music and really remind me of Mondrian's busy Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43) painting, a visual depiction of the music and rhythms of New York city. They also remind me of elements of Matisse's vibrant Jazz collages.

Paolozzi's mosaics on the Central line platforms are more complex and colourful, whereas the mosaics on the Northern line are more sparse and geometric. Apparently there is also new artwork from contemporary artists installed at Tottenham Court Road station. 

I only saw these pieces by French artist Daniel Buren (above), as I entered the station, which to my eyes look very bland, and corporate in comparison to the vibrant, colourful work of the Paolozzi mosaics. Buren's designs do not seem to reference this unique area of London at all. Paolozzi's designs are not universally loved however, but are unique and specific to the station, like other artwork in stations along the Victoria line, that have some good examples of Edward Bawden tile designs. These designs brighten those stations and give them an easily recognisable identity.

Thank goodness then that 95% of Paolozzi's mosaics have been retained, cleaned and restored, and will go on brightening up the lives of commuters for a long time to come. There is currently a retrospective exhibition of Paolozzi's work at The Whitechapel Gallery which goes on until 14th May.