Monday, 29 November 2010


OUTSIDE TATE MODERN Holland Street 29.11.10

One day, no doubt, we shall all delight in the new iconic building bringing more space for displays, study and leisure to Tate Modern. In the meantime you have to weave your way around the building works and dodge the traffic. To celebrate the beginning of this enterprise Swedish artist Martin Karlsson was invited to create London Рan Imagery 2008-2009, drawings printed on weather-resistant vinyl attached to the 100-metre hoarding that encloses the works. Karlsson took as his starting point the engravings of Gustave Dor̩, who, with Blanchard Jerrold, produced a comprehensive portrait of the city РLondon, A Pilgrimage - published in 1872.

A River Side Street 2009 Pencil on paper
24.2 x 19.8 cm
I have passed these delightful and heartfelt pictures many, many times, feeling a glow of appreciation but not slowing my step. Why? Perhaps because everyone walks purposefully to or from the Tate on a narrow pavement. To stop and stare would mean people would have had to walk round me or step into the traffic.

Today I stop. And stare. They are pictures entitled Borough Market, Under the Arches, Bull Dogs and Poplar Dock. The drawings are blunt, to the point, and ineffably generous, even affectionate: the woman walking away with a bargain in her basket, the man whose dogs may have other things on their mind. But I have another inhibition to overcome: Tate visitors have Serious Cameras. I take out my cheap camera which I still don’t know how to use properly.  I take the wobbly photograph below.  

The figures often have their backs to us, which is how it should be, for they are Everywoman and Everyman going about their daily business, unaware of us.  A refreshing non-celebrity culture. They’re a celebration of the fact that each morning us Londoners open our front doors and step out in safety into a city where we mingle with tens of millions of  strangers, drawn from all over the world and speaking hundreds of languages. Occasional skulduggery and thuggery do happen, but here in Karlsson’s drawings is the true London.

After I’ve taken my photo I look around. Other people have stopped too. They are scattered along the pavement enjoying the drawings. A group with several cameras is poised in the road. Do we believe a thing is only worth looking at if someone thinks it’s worth photographing?

P.S. Don't miss the video clip of Karlsson talking about the project at  


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