Eight artists have been commissioned to take over and transform some of West London’s empty high street retail spaces as part of a major public art initiative called high street windows. As Londoners are plunged back into full lockdown and galleries and museums are forced to close, high street windows, presented by kcaw, sees artists come forward with a series of vibrant public art pieces that they hope will inspire and support local communities during these difficult winter months.
Taking part in high street windows, the eight artists are creating a series of visual art commissions, displayed on empty shop fronts in High Street Kensington and South Kensington, to engage passers-by but also to pose critical questions about the past and future of our lives. Both areas have been affected by closures of stores in the past year, however, the level of activity remains reasonably high with the public taking daily walks.
The first five windows have been created by artists Ian Kirkpatrick and Fiona Grady in High Street Kensington with Dotmasters, Alexander Ikhide and Gala Bell installing work in South Kensington. A further three installations are to be completed shortly.
Dotmasters have transformed 35-36 Thurloe Place in South Kensington with a series of experimental light installations created during lockdown. The street practice of the artist Léon Seesix, Dotmasters seek to provide a sideways look at a populist media made with a typically English sense of humour. The entire building is transformed into a giant, glowing light box, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside.
Combining lost landmarks such as the Crystal Palace with mythological figures inspired by Whistler, Oscar Wilde, Francis Bacon, Charles Ricketts and Aubrey Beardsley, artist Ian Kirkpatrick based his artwork on “Nocturne” – a word coined by a past local resident James Abbott McNeill Whistler to describe a painting evoking the magical spirit of night. The artwork reimagines the borough’s famous gardens run amok by mischievous dinosaurs, sphinxes, satyrs and fairies.
Art Deco Paradise by Fiona Grady is located on Kensington High Street. This bespoke installation is inspired by the Art Deco department stores that helped establish Kensington High Street as the centre of retail during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The birth of the department stores such as Derry & Toms and Barkings of Kensington had a significant impact on the profile of London; highlighting the changing lifestyle and aspirations of the public. Multidisciplinary artist Alexander Ikhide has taken over 24-25 Cromwell Place. His practice explores various themes dealing with identity, culture and history, raising questions of representation of the Black body in a contemporary context.
Gala Bell’s Fry Up is located at 32 Thurloe Place in South Kensington. “In a cross over between the comfort of the kitchen and the dominion of the studio, it felt perfect that any artwork should undergo hot oil in the method of deep-frying,” says Bell. The alchemy of painting is surprisingly close to the recipe and material substances of batter – egg yolk in tempera, linseed oil mixed with pigments, the ground white powder of gesso, the heat and energy of hands. Both the space of the kitchen and the space of the studio operate as a lab of material transformation.”
‘Despite the inevitable slow-down, our objective is to offer that extra bit of support to our local area in a thoughtful and creative way,’ says KCAW Founder and Director Vestalia Chilton. ‘Many art shows have also been cancelled, and this is another way to keep our creative economy going not just in The Royal Borough but across the UK.”
Ian Kirkpatrick applied to KCAW Open Call and was successfully shortlisted for Public Art Trail 2020. His work is inspired by the history of art and design, from ancient cave art and Greek amphorae, to graffiti and computer graphics. Kirkpatrick creates his work digitally, using modular graphics that he arranges into narrative configurations, often in response to local heritage and contemporary global events. His sculptural and 2D art has been exhibited internationally and has been commissioned for the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Tour de France, and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Dotmasters are the street practice of the artist Léon Seesix. The small boxes displayed in the windows are experiments in materials and light that were made during lockdown. Boxed-in, we have all tried to see the bright side, and these naughty rude kids’ lights have been Dotmasters way of bringing some light to these humorous candid acts of disobedience. For this site-specific installation, Dotmasters have brought their iconic wallpaper patterns to a monumental scale. The entire building is transformed into a giant, glowing light box, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside.
Alexander Ikhide is a multidisciplinary visual artist working in a range of media, primarily collage/mixed media and drawing. Ikhide’s experimental practice uses digital/graphic image, text, and recently, photography in the vein of documentary-style portraiture to interrogate issues of representation, identity, history, gender and race.
His work examines the political, social, historical and cultural ideologies of African diasporic traditions in a post-colonial age and drawing upon surrealist aesthetic sensibilities of the post-modern that inform his stylistic approach – utilising materials that draw from a myriad of sources whether tangible or intangible/found or archived, but primarily photographic, to be repurposed as parts of a whole in creating compositions. The figure or the image is a central theme of his works as a signifier for the ‘other’, as both the personal and political, which simultaneously serve as a point of departure and arrival upon which the foundation to his ideas stem from and is explored expansively.
Gala Bell is a London based multidisciplinary artist. The alchemy of matter is at the epicentre of Bell’s practice. Ignited by material experiences, art history fuses with divergent forms that combine processes such as casting in sugar, deep frying, submerging in gels or oils, combining materials and methods that explore new rituals in art making. Here, materials and actions become metonymic, swapping roles between kitchen techniques, craftsmanship and tradition.
Engaging with concepts of value, taste, hierarchy and absurd labour, the space of the kitchen and the studio operate as a lab of material transformation, creating pairings that lead to new processes, meanings and possibilities.
Fiona Grady is London based artist that uses jewel-coloured geometric vinyl shapes to create installations on windows and walls. Grady’s installations enchant with light reflections, which change as new patterns form and reveal themselves as the light alters. This crowd pleasing, colourful, simple yet effective work creates a subtle link to stained glass, as seen nearby in the wonderful windows of Holy Trinity and Sloane Street.