art, boballen, bright, business, cabott, canarywharf, commute, coupleonabench, docklands, financial, gilespenny, gloomy, ittakestwo, jonbuck, lynnchadwick, metaphor, returningtoembrace, review, symbolism
“Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed” – Kahlil Gibran
Unexpected pleasures lay within the ruthless grid of the biggest financial center in London, Canary Wharf, as it proves to be a creative hub that showcases some of the most emotional sculpture works in the city and unveils the unseen values that hide within the chrome towers.
This center, also known as Docklands, is the destination for one of the most bustling morning commutes. The first rail car leaving from Gloucester was overflowing with businessmen and blackberries, leaving me left on the platform in hopes that the next one would have room for a timid student to squeeze in. Fighting to compress myself into the professional mass, I was surrounded with ambition and drive.
The train unloaded at Canary Wharf Station and a sea of suits poured out onto the platform, up the escalator and dispersed down the grid of streets filling offices and elevators as the day began. By 10 o’clock the streets were nearly empty, occupied only sporadically with clusters of men and women smoking away their mid-morning breaks.
With the lifeless, empty streets during the work hours, there is very little to help brighten up the Docklands except for the countless pieces of commissioned art scattered throughout the area. These art pieces not only offer a refuge from the harsh, stressful business world that towers above their glory, but many of them symbolize something about the human condition that is unique to a bustling financial area. They symbolize passion, uniformity, ambition, teamwork, and impersonal relations.
“Returning to Embrace” by Jon Buck, is emotionally placed outside 10 Cabot Square. This piece represents a couple locked together, gazing into each other’s eyes. Their forms fuse as one to become a single organism in partnership and passion. This piece is thought to not only represent man and woman, but also man and nature. This struck me as a juxtaposition of ideas incorporating passion and nature within a cutthroat business environment. However, due to its strategic placement it can arguably be interpreted as man’s relationship with money, business, and power. The artist typically uses human heads in his art because he sees the human head as a “house for ideas” (Jon Buck). As a hub for some of the brightest British minds and dreams, the Canary Wharf seems the perfect place for this sculpture to call its home.
The human form continued to dominate the figures situated in Docklands as one closely stumbles upon the somewhat haunting rendition of souls encapsulated in bronze dubbed “The Couple on Seat”. This piece by Lynn Chadwick, located in Cabot Square, shows two armless figures, each head replaced with either a cube or a pyramid, supported by thin spindly legs. It is one of the earlier dating pieces from the area, commissioned in 1984. The artist believed that art must be the manifestation of some vital force coming from the dark…. whatever the final shape, the force behind it is…indivisible,” (Lynn Chadwick). Indivisibility and cooperation are two elements that create a thriving business world. “The Couple on Seat” along with the artists ideas can prove to be highly inspirational to the frequent viewers as they come in and out of their offices and daily routines that connect Britain with the outside world.
The theme of motivation seems to flow consistently through the art that thrives in Docklands. “The Man with Open Arms” by Giles Penny is one of two sculptures in Canary Wharf by this artist. This depicts a man on West India Avenue with his head thrown back and arms outstretched deliberately placed in front of Canary Wharf Tower facing the other direction, he appears to be gazing up towards the heavens. If he had been turned the opposite direction, he would be gazing up at the colossal building that symbolizes the Wharf and all of its achievements. This piece, along with his other was purchased by Canary Wharf Group as part of the permanent collection of art in the area. Thoughtfully placed in the center of the road, with towering buildings overhead, it symbolizes the mentality of the small but powerful workers that fill these buildings every day and the Canary Wharf as being an open port for London and England in creating a global marketplace on the island.
(Photo provided by Flikr) The artwork around Docklands also succeeds in representing the partnership of business and employees, along with the partnership the Docklands succeeds in building with the United Kingdom and the rest of the western world through a growing business market. “It Takes Two” by Bob Allen is a bronze cast of an original carving from an ancient tree listed in the Domesday Book. The female features of the statue came first, later being complemented by the male form. Allen’s lack of planning for the piece allowed for it to grow organically as it continued to progress. Much like unexpected outcomes that occur everyday in the ambitious journeys of men who strive to fill the offices at the tops of Canary Wharf Towers, this piece represents a deeper connection to each individual than a basic onlooker might notice. The man and woman appear to not only be connected, but in some ways supporting each other in their dance. This can be interpreted as a reminder to the people in this bustling manmade world, to respect and act in harmony with the earth, as the artist was profoundly influenced by nature. The female may be mother earth, which leads the man in dance, and asks for him, her counterpart, to complement her in her beauty. Although the artist was presumably inspired by nature, this piece evokes emotions about human relations and possibly even the cyclicality of business in modern life.
Human relations are further epitomized in the piece “Two Men on a Bench.” This is the second work of Giles Penny in Docklands, whose art is a permanent display in the Wharf after being discovered at the Millennium Exhibition, “Shape of the Century”. These men sit on a bench by the water at the bottom of the Cubitt Steps. The smooth bronze work has a contemplative feel as the two men seated so close are turned away from each other facing in different directions. The piece encompasses a narrative communication with its viewers and although it is described as a “fun” piece, it seems to exude gloomy and pensive emotions as one man looks out onto the water and the other gazes into the abandoned grid of streets and buildings.
The majority of the life that exuded from Canary Wharf did not come from the many people who slave away in offices and cubicles everyday. Instead it comes from an unexpected creative milieu that immensely enriches the dull and disheartening feel that lurks up and down the grid of skyscrapers lining the canal. The faces of businessmen and women that loiter outside their workplaces appear to be drained and uninspired. However, a small shred of light appears in rare corners and crevices as a result of the commissioned sculptures. These pieces not only help to refresh the mood of the Docklands, but also offered a deeper symbolic look into the values and practices of its resident members and businesses.