Renowned contemporary British artist, Robert Montgomery has revealed his latest public artwork in Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross
: a light poem honouring his personal connection to the iconic London destination.
Titled Because the city itself is sacred the poem reads because the city itself is sacred the ground is full of love, which precipitates as rain so even the new glass will remember the tears of the old lovers and is now illuminated across the footbridge in front of Coal Drops Yards picturesque kissing roofs. It will be in situ until 3 March 2023.
Montgomery hails from a family of Scottish coal miners, who, throughout the 1900s, mined the coal that was sent to the Kings Cross coal drops via canal and train, once fuelling the city.
The light poem, Montgomery says, is about the magic of London and its many layers of history, which he believes to be both an ancient sacred burial ground and a trading post simultaneously.
The sculpture was written on Christmas night, in memory of his uncle the last coal miner in his family - who died on Christmas Day last year. It was installed on Burns Night in a nod to generations of Scottish immigrants who lived in and around Kings Cross.
The light installation is made from painted wood, copper, recycled PVC and 12-volt LED light, a more energy-efficient and ecological equivalent to neon signage.
My light poem sculpture for Coal Drops Yard is about the magic of the city. Cities are magical because of their layers of history. For me cities are ancient sacred burial grounds. There are trading posts too of course. London is a trading post, but I feel the sacred ancient burial ground aspect of London quite strongly. Close by to here at St Pancras Old Church, where the ancient Hardy Tree has recently fallen you can feel that vividly. These two aspects of the city- the mercantile and the mystical co-exist eternally.
I have a personal biographical connection to Coal Drops Yard. I am an immigrant to London- for many generations my family were proudly working-class Scottish coal miners. They mined the coal which came here on the trains and once fuelled the city. So, there is a kind of personal romance to Coal Drops Yard for me, and what I love about Argents restoration of the place is that they have kept the historical buildings largely intact and preserved the Victorian industrial architecture almost completely.
The personal story of the poem is that I wrote it on Christmas night. My uncle Drew McCracken died on Christmas Day, he was the last coal miner in my family. He worked in the mines well into the 1990s. My mothers eldest brother Robert McCracken died as a young man in a coal mining accident on the 27th August 1969 at the Bethel Mine in Chapelhall, in the village where I was born. Coal mining was hard, dark, bleak and incredibly dangerous work. When I think of the very hard-working lives my grandfathers and uncles had I am humbled that they were such kind and gentle and loving men.
Anyway, I wrote the text thinking about them, so they are possibly, for me, the old lovers in the poem. I hope for others it has a more universal meaning.
The significance of installing the sculpture on Burns Night is a nod to generations of Scottish immigrants, especially in this part of London. There were strong pockets of Scottish migrants here partly because Scots would just get off the train at Kings Cross and find the closest lodgings. My uncle Drews twin brother William did that in the 1980s, he settled here and he eventually became the Director of Social Work for Tower Hamlets.
So there is a personal layer to this work, but I also think more generally about lovers kissing hello, and kissing goodbye, at the great train station. The text is about those traces and footsteps and how they all seem still alive to me, how their love stays in the stone, how I can still see their tears in the January rain.
Robert Montgomery is represented by MTArt Agency, an award-winning talent agency for the most exciting up and coming visual artists worldwide. Founded in 2015, MTArt Agency is a certified B Corp.