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A rare chance to get up close to the painted ceiling at the Old Royal Naval College

Pavilion Lates review: After hours fun at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

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The Dulwich Picture Gallery are hosting late night events every Friday at their Pavilion throughout June and July

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of Dulwich Picture Gallery, the oldest public art gallery in the UK. To mark the occasion, the Gallery hosted a competition to rising architects to design a temporary summer pavilion for the grounds. If_Do won the competition with their airy wood and mesh creation, which will remain outside the Gallery all summer. Throughout June and July, the gallery are hosting late night openings every Friday, featuring special themed events both in and outside the gallery.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The alternative tour of the gallery gives you interesting stories behind some of the art

Earlier this month, I visited the Gallery for their late night opening, entitled ‘Baroque Mash Up’. The DPG is renowned for its collection of French, Spanish and Italian Baroque paintings, so the night took inspiration from this particular genre of art. Entering the gallery grounds, our eyes were immediately drawn to the main attraction – the Pavilion. Within the structure was a pop-up bar from the Camberwell Arms serving cocktails, wine and snacks, so our first priority was to order a drink and soak up the atmosphere. There was plenty of seating both around the Pavilion and the manicured lawns so a lovely space to relax on a warm summer evening. The gallery’s café is also open late serving food if you’re in the mood for something more substantial. While sipping our cocktails, we were entertained by musicians Benjamin Tassie and Liam Byrne playing their original, experimental music, which really complemented the history of the gallery and the social setting. Also in the Pavilion were guests taking part in a cross-stitch workshop, using patterns from some of the Gallery’s works.

During Pavilion Lates, there is free access to the Gallery, which normally costs to enter. We joined one of the hourly tours of the gallery, billed as an ‘alternative tour’. Our guide showed us some popular paintings in the gallery and gave us a list of facts about the subject or the painter – but added an untrue ‘fact’ which we had to guess. As well as injecting a bit of fun into a typically straight-laced activity, it also showcased some surprising facts about artists and the art world I had never heard before. Following the tour, you were free to explore the collection or take part in the collage making workshop.

Overall, it was a lovely, interesting evening – particularly when the weather is good so you can really make the most of the Pavilion and its setting. I’ll definitely be returning to another Pavilion Lates this summer.

  • Pavilion Lates take place every Friday in June and July (except 7 July) 2017 from 6-10pm. In the grounds of Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, Dulwich Village, SE21 7AD. Nearest station: West Dulwich or North Dulwich. Tickets: Free, but you must register for a ticket on the Dulwich Picture Gallery website.

For a guide to what else is on in London in September, click here.

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Iconic London prints at Paul Catherall’s exhibition at For Arts Sake

Paul Catherall

Renowned linocut artist Paul Catherall will be the feature of a month-long exhibition at the For Art’s Sake Gallery

There’s a strong chance you’ve already seen Paul Catherall’s artwork. The London-based printmaker and illustrator has created posters for Transport for London on their bus stops and in their tube stations. More recently, he has designed posters for the #LondonIsOpen campaign on the London Underground. Catherall makes his prints by hand in a lengthy process which takes weeks to complete. He’s particularly known for his pared-down versions of iconic London buildings including Battersea Power Station, Oxo Tower and Tate Modern.

This spring, Catherall will be displaying 50 of his original prints at the For Arts Sake gallery in Ealing. Among the collection on show includes one of his newest pieces – a print of the Hoover Building in West London, which he describes as ‘a gleaming white Art Deco palace on the dreary A40’. Also on display will be his latest set of posters for the #LondonIsOpen campaign, featuring London landmarks.

During the three-week exhibition, the exhibition will be free to enter with all pieces available to buy. There will also be a Facebook competition with the chance to win a rare artist’s proof of Catherall’s Hoover Building print in pink – the only one made in this colour.

  • Paul Catherall’s exhibition runs from 28 April – 21 May 2017. Open Mon-Fri 10am-5.30pm, Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 12pm-5pm. Free entry. For Arts Sake, 45 Bond Street, Ealing, W5 5AS. Nearest station: Ealing Broadway. For more information, visit the For Arts Sake website.

For a guide to what else is on in May, click here.

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‘They shall not pass’: Fighting the fascists on the Battle of Cable Street mural

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A huge mural depicts the Battle of Cable Street, which took place in October 1936

We’re currently living in a time of great political turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic, with effects from Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency likely to be felt for years to come. While it’s understandable to feel despair right now, remember Londoners in the past have gone through similar tumultuous times and have managed to come out the other side. In the past year, it seems like more Londoners are expressing their anger over political issues and taking to the streets to protest. However, back in October 1936, ordinary Londoners ended up clashing with police in a historic battle.

In between the two World Wars, politician Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932 after becoming disillusioned with the Labour party. His speeches were so controversial, it was predictable that BUF meetings often ran into trouble with Communist and Jewish groups so Mosley enlisted the infamous ‘Blackshirts’ for protection.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The mural depicts faceless police officers clashing with working-class East End Londoners

On 4 October 1936, the BUF planned to march through the streets of East London – particularly antagonising as the area was renowned for its large Jewish population. Ignoring their better judgement, the government declined to ban the march and instead requested the police escort the fascists. Outraged by the BUF’s plans, various groups of Jewish, Irish, socialist, anarchist and communist groups decided to put up roadblocks in a bid to stop the march. An estimated 20,000 demonstrators turned up, chanting ‘they shall not pass’, and were confronted by 6,000 police officers, who were under orders to let the BUF march as intended. The ensuing clash between the groups involved protestors fighting back with anything they could get their hands on, including furniture, sticks and rocks. Meanwhile, Mosley’s BUF finally realised what an ill-advised idea it had been and retreated to Hyde Park. Around 175 people – protestors and police – were injured, while 150 demonstrators were arrested. The battle influenced the passing of the Public Order Act 1936, which required political marches to obtain police consent and banned the wearing of political uniforms in public.

Decades later, the historic clash was to be commemorated on a huge mural on the side of St George’s Town Hall on Cable Street. Artist Dave Binnington was commissioned to depict the battle on the 3,500 square feet section of wall, beginning his work in late 1979. It was initially hoped the mural would be completed by the 44th anniversary of the battle in October 1980, but the sheer scale and other technical problems led Binnington to realise it was a bigger task than he estimated. In May 1982, part of the mural was vandalised with far-right graffiti, which prompted a tired and disgusted Binnington to resign from the project. Two months later, artists Paul Butler, Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort got together to complete the mural, with the top section fulfilling Binnington’s original designs and the vandalised lower portions covered with a modified design. The mural was finally unveiled in May 1983 by Paul Beasley (leader of Tower Hamlets Council) Jack Jones (former General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union), Tony Banks (Chair of the Greater London Council Arts Committee) and Dan Jones (Secretary of the Hackney Trades Council).

Unfortunately in the intervening years, the mural has been vandalised several times, but was restored in October 2011 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Visiting today, it’s an overwhelming and powerful piece of art. The sheer scale and details of the mural will keep many visitors lingering at it for quite some time. The 1930s setting is clear through the style of painting, while the flying milk bottles and broken windows really epitomises the unexpected explosion of violence.

  • The Cable Street mural is on the side of St George’s Town Hall, 236 Cable Street, E1 0BL. Nearest station: Shadwell.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Exploring Dulwich’s street art with the Dulwich Festival

Hang with the art flock at the Paper Aviary in St James

Paper Aviary

The Paper Aviary is a new exhibition in St James’s Market Pavilion

A new public art exhibition has just opened in London’s St James. Taking inspiration from the Royal aviary which used to stand in St James’s Park, is ‘The Paper Aviary’ in a new permanent art space.

Paper Aviary

The exhibition is accompanied by a soundtrack of birdsong

Back in the 17th century, the park was home to King Charles II’s (1630-1685) collection of exotic birds. The King had redesigned the park after being inspired by the French royals’manicured grounds while he was exiled in France during the English Civil War. The aviary is mentioned in the diaries of both Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. In addition to the aviary, the Pelicans were introduced to the park at the same time, where they continue to live today. Although the aviary is long gone, a reference to it lives on in nearby Birdcage Walk.

‘The Paper Aviary’ is a new installation by design and brand specialists dn&co with Argentine studio Guardabosques. The likes of bright green Sulawesi hanging parrots, red and yellow lories and lorikeets, and cassowaries have been brought to life in the paper aviary. Each bird has been handcrafted with plumage and patterns inspired by fashion houses and craftspeople of St James. Represented are the houndstooth, checks and polka dots from the fabric patterns of John Smedley, Turnbull & Asser and Aquascutum. As visitors step into the St James Market Pavilion, they will be greeted by a curated soundtrack of birdsong to accompany the exhibition.

  • The Paper Aviary is open from 15 February – 3 May 2017 at St James’s Market Pavilion, Regent Street, St James, SW1Y 4AH. Free entry. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park. For more information, visit the St James London website.

For a guide to what else is on in London in May, click here.

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Winter Lights festival 2017: Angels, giant eggs and a lot of neon

Bringing contemporary art to the Big Smoke: Sculpture In The City 2016/2017

Back to their Victorian glory: The restored sphinxes of Crystal Palace Park

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One of the restored red sphinxes in Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Park is a South London gem. Although well-known by locals, many people living in the other parts of the capital haven’t made the journey… and they’re missing out! As a born and bred South Londoner, I’ve been visiting the park since I was little and continue to today. The park was established in 1854 as a permanent base for the Crystal Palace – built for the Great Exhibition three years earlier. The Crystal Palace – a huge iron and glass structure designed by architect Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) – had already wowed visitors in Hyde Park, and would have a long-term home at the expansive Sydenham grounds with views across Croydon and Surrey. Together with the surrounding land, the park became a Victorian pleasure ground. Two train stations serviced the park, while an Italian garden and fountains, a maze, an English landscape garden and dinosaur exhibition were opened.

The Crystal Palace stood for decades until it was destroyed by a fire in November 1936. Today, the only remainder of the Palace is its Victorian terraces, ruins of its water towers and the surviving six of the original collection of 12 sphinxes. The sculptures of the half-man, half-lions flank flights of steps on the Upper Terrace and feature cartouches and hieroglyphs on their bodies and base. The sphinxes were based on the red granite sphinx at the Louvre museum in Paris – from the reign of Egyptian Pharaoh Amenemhat II (1929-1895 BC). They are likely to have been the idea of architect Owen Jones (1809-1874), who was partially responsible for the decoration and layout of the Palace in its new environment and designed the Egyptian, Greek and Roman courts within the exhibition.

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One of the sphinxes before and after restoration

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One of the Crystal Palace sphinxes looking south over the terraces and park in 2015 – before restoration

For decades, the sphinxes were painted red to match their original inspiration across the channel in France. Tests have shown the re-painting stopped in the 1900s when the popularity in the Palace had declined. For most of the 20th century, the sphinxes were their base grey colour. Understandably, they’ve taken quite a battering from the element over the years and were cracking, ending up on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.

In 2016, the Grade II-listed sphinxes were restored as part of a £2.4million project funded by the Mayor of London, Historic England and Bromley Council. The project also includes the restoration of the terrace steps, the famous Victorian dinosaur sculptures and a new café. The work included repairs to the holes and cracks and repainting to their original Victorian colour of red with a mineral paint to help conserve them longer. I’ve loved the sphinxes since I was a child and having witnessed their deterioration over the years, I was thrilled to see them restored to their former glory. I hope they continue to survey the park for another 150 years and beyond.

  • The Sphinxes are located by the terraces on the northern-western part of Crystal Palace Park (access from Crystal Palace Parade, Upper Norwood, SE19. Nearest station: Crystal Palace. For information about visiting the park, check out Bromley Council’s website.
© Paul Furst/Wikimedia Commons

Some of the sphinxes (circled) outside the Crystal Palace in 1854
© Paul Furst/Wikimedia Commons


Read about the Victorian subway hidden under Crystal Palace parade here.

To find out about another set of London sphinxes on the Victoria Embankment, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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David Shrigley’s Really Good comes to the Fourth Plinth

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Really Good by David Shrigley on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

The latest artwork has been unveiled on the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square and it’s already dividing critics and the public. Really Good, a giant hand in a thumbs up gesture by artist David Shrigley, was unveiled on 29 September 2016 and will remain there for the foreseeable future. The new sculpture replaces Gift Horse by German artist Hans Haacke, which had been in situ since March 2015.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Really Good is the 11th commission for the Fourth Plinth

After Trafalgar Square was laid out in the 1840s, three of the four plinths were – and still are – occupied by sculptures of King George IV, General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock. The Fourth Plinth was originally designed to hold an equestrian statue of King William IV, but plans were dropped due to lack of funds. After decades of being empty, a new public art project was conceived in 1998 for the Fourth Plinth to house a rotation of temporary artworks.

Brighton-based artist Shrigley has created a seven-metre high, bronze hand with a disproportionately large thumb. This new sculpture has been hailed as a beacon for positive thinking during a somewhat tricky year, with the Brexit vote dividing the British public. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones wrote: ‘This is a weird and bizarre sculpture whose stark silhouette against the London sky is not affirmative or reassuring but aggressive.’ Meanwhile, The Telegraph’s Mark Hudson said: ‘If the dark bronze skilfully echoes the patina of the older statues, blending the sculpture into its grandiose setting, the way the ball of the hand, the clenched fingers and thumb relate to each other is uncomfortable and patently unrealistic.’ Personally, I’m still undecided what I think about it and may have to see it a few more times before I decide if I like it or hate it. It’s certainly prompted a lot more debate among Londoners than recent commissions.

  • Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, WC2. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, Embankment or Leicester Square.

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