But a secret doorway anyway – in this brilliantly colourful artwork round the back of Kings Cross, by the amazing gasholders. It’s called 700 Reflectors, and when you get up close, that’s exactly what it turns out to be (I didn’t count them….). Seen on my way from Kent to Hull taking pics of more co-ops.
To London again this week for the British Library and yet more issues of Co-operative News, an invaluable source both for shop openings and general discussions – about advertising for instance – in the co-op movement. For a bit of light relief I went along to the Bow Road in Poplar, to photograph a 1919 Stratford Co-operative and Industrial Society store; it still functions as a supermarket, although not a co-op. It has a rather splendid beehive on its pediment, so well detailed that the individual bees and the hive’s structure are clearly visible. It’s near the Bow Church DLR station (and not far from Bow Road tube). If you happen to visit, don’t miss the former Poplar Town Hall (1937-8) just across the road, a smashing modernist building with sculptures in socialist realist style of various building labourers, and also mosaics above the councillors’ entrance. But you must cross the road to see the best bit, as there is a lovely mosaic design of the Thames and docklands beneath the entrance canopy, presumably to inspire the members as they looked up when entering the building!
Towards the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s the CWS Architects’ Department was very keen on incorporating public artworks, often large-scale murals, into their buildings. Several examples are shown in their book Co-operative Architecture 1945-1959, including the surviving ceramic tile mural in the town square at Stevenage (it now fronts Primark), a figurative work representing the spirit of co-operation by the CWS’ own designer, G Bajo. Into the 1960s and mosaics came to the fore; still with us are the colourful semi-abstract on the Ipswich co-op buildings (1962, unknown artist) and the massive graphic abstract glass mosaic on the former Hull emporium (1963, commissioned from Alan Boyson) which hopefully will be retained in future developments. There were many more, but I thought rebuilding and weathering had seen the end of all the others. But no! Just rediscovered in the north of England is this large (three plate glass windows wide) mosaic abstract, part of the 1963 building which was then the largest co-op pharmacy department store in the country (I’m not sure whether that’s England or the UK), presumably rivalling Boots and suchlike. Inside, the store is rather grand, a broad central stair descending to a large lower ground area, and twin side stairs reaching up to a gallery-cum-mezzanine, all very spacious; it’s not a co-op, but is still a functioning shop and almost exactly as it was originally laid out. The mosaic faces north, and is best seen in midsummer rather than winter when the light is from the rear, but it has survived amazingly well – a little conservation/restoration work and it would look terrific. Again, the artist is unknown. Overall, the shop is an absolute gem. How many more of these are out there I wonder?
Briefly in Edinburgh this week, I enjoyed tea and cake at the café in the City Art Centre, with its lively mural (1980) by William Crosbie (1915-99). The design is perfect for its setting, and Crosbie himself supervised the mural’s restoration in the late 1990s. Sadly, as you can see from the photo, the mural is now in rather a sorry state, with parts blistering and paint coming off. It is certainly a difficult environment for a mural, with lots of steam and similar tea-making activities taking place. Let’s hope it can be re-restored and last for at least another couple of decades.
It’s the run-up to Christmas (and the all-important solstice), and Historic England have just launched their Post-War Public Art campaign: Help Find Our Missing Art . There’s to be a must-see exhibition at Somerset House, London called Out There: Our Post-War Public Art starting 3rd February 2016. Meanwhile back at the Vic & Ed Industrial Architecture book, I’ve seen the cover, which looks great, loads of pics, and the proofs should arrive any day now; a well-timed present! Merry Christmas to everyone.