Eduardo Paolozzi Tube Murals in Critical Disrepair

On the 10 February 2011 we reported a story about the fate of the iconic murals designed by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi located at the Tottenham Court Road tube station in London. After a few phone calls we were given assurances by TFL that they were being responsibly looked after during the construction of the Cross Rail link. Here is a photograph taken by concerned TFL customer, David Walsh which was passed to us. It gives some idea of the state of disrepair of these late 20th century masterpieces.Walsh stated, “My own feeling is that the Paolozzi murals are an underground treasure and should be preserved for the nation. They are entertaining, a little mysterious, witty and so bold in colour and design as to make waiting for a train at this underground station a pleasure.The works of art decorate the platforms and stretch as far as the arches at the top of the escalator. The references are to jazz and the theatre, to the city. Above all they are full of life. The works are  site-specific and when the Westbound trains pull in, they tell you that you’re not in Leytonstone any more. E.Paolozzi is obviously an important artist and I doubt that any other capital city in the wealthy western world would allow such important work to deteriorate.They need safeguarding now before the Crossrail martians descend on the Central Line”. – David Walsh. To fill you in on the progress of this construction project, several of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaic murals designed for the Tottenham Court Road Tube Station, in the 1980s are to be removed. This is to make way for new passages and reinforced tunnels, as part of the expanded tube station connecting to the new Cross Rail project. The unlisted works of art include, panels of tessellated mosaics inspired by Tottenham Court Road’s electronics shops and the once vibrant music industry. The 1000 square metre commission is distinct and an internationally recognized feature of the station. The mosaic’s frenetic designs are much loved by art critics and the public. In a statement from TFL, “London Underground highly values the Paolozzi mosaics within Tottenham Court Road Underground station, and alongside the Tube’s ‘Art on the Underground’ programme, we have been working closely with the Paolozzi Foundation as the Tottenham Court Road upgrade progresses. We are taking great care to protect and preserve these wonderful mosaics as we upgrade the station”. Test areas have been investigated and a feasibility study undertaken removing sections of tiles. In all cases the damage was negligible.The Tottenham Court Road commission is one of Paolozzi’s most important works and it would be an enormous cultural loss if sections were removed,without sensitive preservation expertize. I spoke to Robert Harris at the TFL press office and he has assured me that most of the panels will remain in situ with others carefully removed to other parts of the new station. The new station will be six times larger and at a cost of 800 million, an impressive environment to house the works of art. The project is expected to shut the Northern Line for eight months from April and will take at least five years to complete. Whether or not this is still the case remains to be seen as the mosaic panels seem to deteriorating on a daily basis. (see photo)
Sir Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi was a Scottish artist born 1924 in Leith in north Edinburgh. He studied at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1943 and briefly at the St Martin’s School of Art, which was located close to the station. In 1944 he attended the Slade School of Art until 1947, after which he worked in Paris. Largely a surrealist, Paolozzi came to public attention in the 1960s by producing a range of striking screenprints.  Paolozzi was a founder of the Independent Group, which is seen as a precursor to the ’60s British pop art movement.  His 1947 collage “I was a rich man’s plaything” is sometimes labelled the first true instance of Pop Art along with Richard Hamilton’s “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing” although he always described his work as surrealist. In later life he became better known as a sculptor. Paolozzi is known for producing figurative sculptural works with rectilinear elements added or removed. The human form is often deconstructed in a cubist manner. He taught sculpture and ceramics at a number of institutions, including University of California, Berkeley (in 1968) and at the Royal College of Art. Paolozzi has a long association with Germany, having worked in Berlin from 1974 as part of the Artists Exchange Scheme. He was a professor at the Fachhochschule in Cologne from 1977 to 1981, and later taught sculpture at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich.Paolozzi was awarded the CBE in 1968 and in 1979 he was elected to the Royal Academy. He became Her Majesty’s Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland in 1986, holding the office until his death in 2005. In 1989 he was knighthood for his contribution to the arts.

Tottenham Court Road Tube Station is over 100 years old. It was designed to handle half the numbers of passengers (155,000) now using the station daily. The completion date is predicted to be sometime before 2020. Lets hope that the rebuild is sensitive to Paolozzi’s vision. Photo: © David Walsh

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