diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 14, 2020

As part of yesterday's ten mile hike I walked from Leyton to Leytonstone to Wanstead and admired some excellent art and design.

Leyton High Road - Walala Parade

Well this is excellent. It used to be a drab row of shops and now it's the same row of shops but bursting with geometrical colour. A crowdfunding appeal by shopkeepers and the local community had just about hit its target by the time lockdown hit, and come September this was the result. The design is by artist Camille Walala in her trademark bright bold style. The painting was by street art collective Wood Street Walls. The paint was all recycled. And the end result was dazzling enough to make it into all the mainstream websites who love to write up a good press release with pretty photos.

It's certainly visually arresting, particularly if you've forgotten it's here and suddenly stumble upon it around the next corner. It almost looks like it could burst into animation at any second like some garish 90s music video. But if the idea was to attract you to use the shops underneath, lockdown 2 has dealt a bitter blow. The Magpie toy shop sells non-essential goods so is closed. Deeney's cafe can't serve up Scottish favourites at present, ditto the Somalian treats at Barwaqoo. Abbey Marquee Structures and Tentmakers (repairs undertaken) didn't stand a chance. And nobody pops into Kwik Fit out of choice... but yes, the paint job does make it feel like you ought to.

Leytonstone High Road - Artyface roundel

Well this is gorgeous. It's one of several tiled roundels to be installed at stations across Waltham Forest by artist Maud Milton, aided and abetted by a broad cross section of the wider community, as part of a Borough of Culture initiative. This one's in a prominent position below the railway bridge at the Overground station, rather than closer to the gateline where far fewer people would see it.

The genius idea here is that each of the clay tiles has been individually decorated by a local resident. This was achieved via a series of public workshops, all ages welcomed, at which hundreds of participants were invited to press their own designs into clay tiles. These were then fired and glazed, and later assembled into a beautifully collective design. Look closely and you can see words (PRIDE, DEDICATION, SANITY), leaf prints, birds, flowers and all sorts of intricate indentations. It merits very close inspection.

Additional roundels at Walthamstow Central and St James Street proved tougher to create because the workshops hadn't taken place before lockdown struck. Instead the artists had to get properly creative, delivering boxes full of wet tiles to local households, almshouses and care homes, then offering guidance via instructional Instagram videos. Completed roundels now spread well beyond Waltham Forest, including one south of the river, and Maud's well up for making more. Watch out for them at Chingford, Highams Park, Walthamstow Central, St James Street, Leyton Midland Road, Leytonstone High Road, South Tottenham, Upper Holloway, Gospel Oak and Thornton Heath.

Leytonstone - Independent Buildings

This one's not new but it is striking, especially if the sun's shining directly on it as you exit the tube station. It's Independent Buildings, a corner parade topped by offices, built in 1934 to house staff compiling the local newspaper. The clock makes a fine centrepiece, even if it is twenty minutes fast these days, although it's the green typeface above I really like. The newspaper in question was the Leytonstone Express and Independent, an august organ reporting on E11 from the Victorian era to the late 20th century, but long since folded or swallowed by something journalisticlly inadequate.

Before Independent Buildings was built this was the site of the Gaiety Cinema, a 400-seater single-storey affair which lingered only from 1913 to 1928. Before that it was the site of Leytonstone's General Post Office, back in the era when the only other buildings in Church Lane were the Fire Station and of course the parish church. Today the offices under the clock are occupied by an estate agent, but it's still that coppery lettering I look up for.

Wanstead - Wanstead station

Lucky Wanstead, along with Redbridge and Gants Hill, has one of Charles Holden's final tube stations. It casts a striking silhouette across George Green with a trademark stocky tower rising above a marginally curvaceous ticket hall. The tower ought to have been topped with glass bricks, but materials were short in the post-war years and the best 1947 could offer was grey render. What does shine out is the London Transport roundel, and in particular the oddity that UNDER and GROUND appear with a gap between them.

The reason for this is only apparent if you look close up - the two words are written on two separate panels surrounded by glazing bars which force a space between the R and the G. And UNDER GROUND is doubly appropriate here because half a century later the A12 was carved through Wanstead in a cut and cover tunnel, so lurks immediately alongside beneath a deceptively thin veneer. A treeless stripe across George Green reveals its path.

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