diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 01, 2018

For a limited time only, a remarkable art exhibition is on display at Euston Square station.

Bold frames spaced along each platform have been filled with abstract designs assembled as a collage of jagged overlapping shapes. Each hand-crafted rectangle is unique, creating a portfolio piece whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Fragments of the past echo through each black-rimmed portal. Pause awhile and reflect on the fundamental nature of the composite message.

Euston Square is an Underground original, one of seven stations opened by the Metropolitan Railway in January 1863. Back then it was known as Gower Street, and steam trains puffed through, but much the same cut and cover layout remains today beneath the surface. Two platforms face each other across the tracks beneath a central vaulted roof. Which means, assuming no trains get in the way, the perfect spot to view each gallery is from the platform on the other side.

Most of the individual artworks are predominantly black and white, with sharp splashes of bright colour amid the decoupage. Geometric shapes jostle for dominance amid the tentative framing of the tiled surround.

Occasionally a portmanteau structure is used, with flashes of illustration and text to decipher, deftly stratified in cryptic layers. In one particularly striking composition a complete cultural hierarchy is revealed, with references to the 1996 film Small Faces masking details of a key Bizet opus, itself obscured by Sheryl Crow's seminal 1993 album Tuesday Night Music.

But what does it all mean?

Fret not. Passengers waiting on the platform can gain a deeper understanding from informative labels pasted up beside each artwork.

These are works by Undefined Artist, each entitled "Untitled".

As is self-evident, the materials used are concrete, tiles, paper, dust and dirt.

Suddenly all is clear!

Millions have stood on these platforms over the years, but only now has the full significance of this imaginative installation been revealed.

Hurry, these are the exhibition's final days - it must end soon! Why not pop along before this temporary gallery is lost for good?

Euston Square is one of a handful of Zone 1 stations given a makeover around fifty years ago during an era of drab postwar homogeneity. Its walls were covered in regular white tiles, topped off by a roundel-heavy frieze, with coloured tiles used to demarcate regular spaces for paper-based advertising. Beside the staircase this framing was enacted in orange and blue, but along the platforms a plain black outline was used, creating a simple border within which posters could be pasted.

This year the station is once again receiving a makeover, but in line with TfL's new Station Design Idiom, which mandates a restricted palette of elements at stations deemed to have limited existing architectural merit. In Euston Square's case this means the walls are about to be retiled in bright white rectangles, with a single stripe of navy blue across the top. The overall effect will be more communal bathroom than grimy subway.

The first patch of shiny rectangles is already in place on the eastbound platform near the stairs, and has been growing in size over the last week. Before each section of new tiles appears the walls are replastered in readiness, and before that the original ceramics have to be prized off. Several sections of wall are currently draped with ugly grey canvas, predominantly down the stairs where the orange- and blue-tiled frames are in imminent danger of extinction. Only on the westbound platform, and at the end of the east, do substantial portions of the old design remain.

Euston Square's long been a bit of a gloomy station. This tiling makeover may make it brighter, or may remove what little unsung character it once had. The old black frames are definitely going, though, with modern illuminated panels emerging in their place. No longer will a palimpsest of bygone posters lurk beneath the surface, awaiting ripped revelation, because sticky glue is very much a thing of the past. This really is an art exhibition whose time is nearly up. Tomorrow's digital heritage simply disappears, never to be seen again.

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