SOUTHWARK BRIDGE, LONDON 17.3.11
I’ve already wasted too much time trying to get access and permissions. Nor is it a DIY job. We're talking of something which is 48 metres long (longer than 5 London buses laid end to end) and 3 metres high, one of the largest pieces of public art in London. Hardly a case of dusting down a Box Brownie and pointing it in the direction of a work which runs along a wall supporting a dingy low-slung Victorian railway bridge.
Ian Davenport was shortlisted for the Turner prize in 1991, the year that Anish Kapoor walked away with the prize (see Kapoor blogs Sky Mirror and Spire). In 2003 he was the artist commissioned to make this major London landmark, close to Tate Modern, the National Theatre and The Globe Theatre.
It was 2 years in the making and has to withstand grime, rain, vandals and pigeons. And it took 6 months to research materials tough enough and big enough for the job. His 1m x 3m steel panels were fired at 825^C at a remote factory in Germany, where Davenport set up a studio to mix 300 different colours, each applied by syringe allowing the paint to be poured in vertical stripes.There is a delicate balance between controlling the flow of paint and allowing it to run free. The result is full of surprises and unexpected colour combinations which pulsate and fluctuate: a painting with joie de vivre, which is just what you need scurrying along under a noisy, grubby railway bridge. One writer describes it as ‘countering the endless traffic noises by undulating with its own rhythms, riffs and moods’.
The statistics say that it’s viewed by 1.2 million people who pass that way every year, most of whom never set foot inside an art gallery. But I wonder? Is ‘viewed’ the right word? You can stand on the pavement and watch people hurry by. I like to think they know it’s there as a friendly presence. And that they would be outraged to lose it.