It was around 16 months ago when, following a work social function held within the Barbican Estate in the City of London, my colleague, who also lives there, commissioned me to depict the Barbican on canvas.
It was something of a challenge. Chief amongst the challenges was the scale of the piece – a hefty triptych to feature on a large blank wall – exciting in prospect, but less so when I was already working full time with only evenings and the occasional weekend free to paint. Second was the problem of inspiration. The Barbican does not fall under what one would ordinarily term “beautiful”. Built in the style typical of the 60s and now given the rather unflattering title “brutalist architecture”, the Barbican estate is all grey concrete, sharp jagged edges and high rise. However, the site, built to fill in one of many huge expanses of the City devastated by the Blitz in WW2, is undoubtedly iconic, and as I started to muse upon a possible approach to capturing the architecture on canvas, I noticed how the architecture formed a harmony of shapes, from a variety of circles and semi circles, as well as straight horizontals and the teeth like edges of its famous three towers. And then it came upon me – what other London icon is comprised of simplistic lines and circles? Why the Underground. An idea was born.
My Barbican Triptych is both a homage to the architectural shapes of the Barbican and the city in which it is located. Along the horizon of all three canvases, the famous skyline of the City can be seen, while across the piece, another London icon dominates: the famous map of the Underground. Taking the idea further, I chose to paint the work in predominant shades of purple, pink and yellow, these being the likes (Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City and Circle) that pass through the tube station at the Barbican, while occasionally where round sunken flower beds would ordinarily be found in the Barbican’s waterways, these have been replaced with the famous black ringed circle stops of the tube map.
The painting not only reflects the architecture of the Barbican but channels the plentiful water which can be found at the Estate, starting from the waterfall on the right and flowing up through fountains and past the main cultural centre of the Estate to the fish ponds on the far right. It also includes the plentiful flowers which today make the architecture less brutal, and the plants which flow from the various residential balconies there.
It may have taken well over a year to complete but I am so proud of the final result. And somewhat appropriately, this painting was the last of many I have completed while living in London. How apt then that rather than the Mediterranean setting which tends to be the staple of my work, this painting should be made in homage to the city which, up until last weekend, was my home of 12 years. My final swan song to London.
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