New artwork inspired by fridge magnets and a Renaissance masterpiece will welcome visitors to new city

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, May 19, 2024

New artwork inspired by fridge magnets and a Renaissance masterpiece will welcome visitors to new city
Local artist Lu Williams will create huge installation inspired by fridge magnets and a 600-year-old masterpiece of the Renaissance.

SOUTHEND-ON-SEA.- Focal Point Gallery and Creative Estuary announced the commission of a new, major public artwork that will welcome visitors and residents to the UK’s newest city - Southend-On-Sea.

The project is the latest in a series of exciting Creative Estuary Co-commissions – the initiative which aims to showcase 60 miles of the North Kent and South Essex region as one of the UK’s most dynamic and creative areas in the whole of the UK.

Lu Williams’ impactful, ambitious, and fun concept will transform the ‘gateway’ to the city’s famous High Street, as approached from Southend Victoria and Victoria Avenue.

An unusual and very beautiful source of inspiration behind Williams’ winning idea are Lorenzo Ghiberti’s (1378-1455) doors to the baptistry of San Giovanni in central Florence, Italy. Known as the Gates of Paradise, the huge pair of bronze doors portray scenes from the Old Testament and were themselves commissioned after a competition.

Taking a popular seaside souvenir of a great day out and combining it with Ghiberti’s iconic creations, Williams will also recreate certain aspects and moments of Southend’s history, landmarks and events in the form of monumental fridge magnets, as the artist explains: “Building from the days of Victorian day-tripping to the huge punk music scene of the late 1970s-1980s, with its current status as a new city complete with a thriving arts scene, the relief sculptures (3D images emerging from a flat background) will be positioned on rollercoaster-style tracking, bringing a sense of dynamism to the space and creating an archway that also acts as invitation towards the High Street.”

Further hinting how the finished installation could look, Williams adds: “Cladding the brick walls with painted aluminium will help to give the impression of a large community noticeboard, or fridge front. The magnet-style relief sculptures will be lit by a mix of luminescent fibreglass and interior lighting, so they can also be seen in the dark. Fridge magnets are a curation of our experiences, often kept in the heart of the home, the kitchen, and this theme of bringing together personal experiences of Southend, with its cultural offering to visitors, feels fitting.”

In November 2021, members of the Southend Creative and Culture Network (SCCN) were invited to propose nominations for local artists to submit their proposals for a major public art commission on Southend High Street. A selection panel – composed of local residents and creative practitioners – then agreed a shortlist of six artists from a longlist.

Katharine Stout, Director of Focal Point Gallery, Southend and Chair of the judging panel explained the process: “Each of the shortlisted artists was asked to explain their initial proposal ideas, and how they would approach the commission, the community groups they might wish to engage with, why they would like to be considered for this commission, and how their experience is appropriate for a project of this scale. From these proposals, the jury met and selected one artist whose proposal they felt offered the most exciting and direct response to the aims of this project which are to create a new, high-quality, ambitious public artwork that captures the imagination of both residents and visitors to Southend and has a relevance to locality and the Thames Estuary.”

Emerging from a high-quality field of submissions, the jury particularly commended the imaginative quality of Williams’ proposal, in particular the intended use of fridge magnets as popular, household items but elevated to become sculptural objects, in order to celebrate different memories and unique locations across Southend.

“Lu’s intention to work with different generations of residents, to create something quite different that would create a sense of pride in Southend also helped their proposal to stand out as the most dynamic and innovative,” Katharine added.

Cllr Carole Mulroney, Southend Borough Council Cabinet Member for Environment, Culture, Tourism & Planning commented: “It has been a great pleasure to have been a part of the Creative Estuary commission panel and to see the exciting and innovative projects that have come forward. I congratulate Lu Williams for the opportunity the project gives to involve local people of all ages in producing an artwork that will enhance and support our new city status. Southend has a large and growing community of artists of all genres and our year of celebrations will be a showcase for many of them and for all residents and visitors to enjoy.”

Emma Wilcox, Creative Estuary Project Director says, “I hope this new artwork will have a transformative effect on a key welcoming point into the city centre, creating a sense of pride in this unique location along with a positive perception about the Town Centre as a thriving and welcoming place, whilst once again drawing attention to the creative possibilities and output of the Thames Estuary.”

Subject to the usual planning process, the final artwork is set to be in place by Summer 2022.

Lu Williams is an artist living and working in Southend. They use research and community engagement to produce zines, print, sculpture, drawing, writing, events and workshops. Lu is interested in social history, accessibility, labour, DIY culture, protest and explores this through a personal experience of queerness and working-class culture.

They founded Grrrl Zine Fair in 2015 which platforms womxn, trans and non-binary artists and zine makers through workshops, events, Grrrl Zine Library, based at The Old Waterworks, Southend and Grrrl In print Zine. In 2021 they Co-founded Dog Ear, a place for sculptural dog toys and artist publishing.

As a third generation Southender, Lu will be reflecting on Southend’s history as well as imagining the high street of the future and what could be done now. Members of community groups and other local creatives will be invited to consult and contribute to the design of the public artwork through facilitated workshops and printed matter to gather thoughts, memories and ideas.

Focal Point Gallery is South Essex’s only public contemporary art gallery, open to all. Offering an exciting and ambitious programme of largely free workshops, talks, outdoor film screenings and offsite projects, we also present four major exhibitions a year featuring both international and local artists. We believe in building a community and a safe space to enjoy art and the creative process, where everyone is valued.

Our aim is to inspire curiosity by producing and presenting thought-provoking art made today that explores our locality, sense of self and the importance of communities through investigating current concerns that resonate internationally. We set out to enrich the cultural lives of local residents of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, by providing them access to world-class, pioneering art, and creating opportunities for them to develop their own creative skills and thinking. We strengthen our offer through partnerships and networks, working together to co-design projects and initiatives.

As a local gallery with an international reach, for over 30 years Focal Point Gallery has championed Southend-on-Sea, attracting visitors to the city and work to change perceptions of Essex, England’s most misunderstood county. We advocate for culture led regeneration and investment opportunities to support growth of the local economy and positive placemaking for our region. Focal Point Gallery is part of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and receives regular funding from Arts Council England.

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