London is brimming with fascinating galleries, but there comes a time when we all crave something a fair few junctions from the beaten track. Offering strange and unique aesthetic pleasures, here are a selection of the capital’s cutting-edge public artworks and gallery spaces that eschew the guidebooks and shun the masses courtesy of Thorpe Park Breaks.
Traffic Light Tree
Springing from the nucleus of a large roundabout near Canary Wharf, Pierre Vivant’s Traffic Light tree uses some of our most everyday safety measures to stunning new ends. Comprised of 75 sets of lights on green-tinted metallic boughs, the sculpture transforms these ubiquitous road signals into an 8m-tall tree, the lights flashing at random intervals as a companion-piece to the district’s hustle and bustle. Motorists’ confusion quickly gave way to delight after the lights were erected in 1998, and the tree now ensures its roundabout residence is ranked as the country’s favorite. Catch the lively sculpture from the right angle and it blends uncannily into the surrounding trees.
White Cubicle Toilet Gallery
Boasting some of the most efficient use of space you’ll find this side of a smart car, the White Cubicle Toilet Gallery measures in at 1.40 x 1.40 meters and can be found in the ladies’ room of the George and Dragon pub on Hackney Road. Operated without staff, funding and arguably sense, the minuscule gallery creates a playful and thoroughly uncommercial space that counterpoints London’s often expensive and self-serious art scene. Recent exhibitions include pieces of fruit floated on a string over the drab white tiling and glowing silkscreens on backdrops of black-and-white hand signals. With a constant rotation of exhibits from the surreal to the sublime, this unusual space is always worth a visit. Plus you’re already in a pub, a perfect location to get critical discussion liberally flowing after marveling at the latest installation.
Enigmatic Banksy is equally keen on leaving his mark in alcoves and side streets as headline-grabbing spaces like Disneyland or the Israeli West Bank. Although now recognized as the world’s leading street artist, his pieces are still regularly concealed or removed by killjoy councils. Thus you can no longer visit his pickaxed crooked phone booth or ‘One nation under CCTV’ mural, but others do remain scattered throughout the capital. In a car park on the corner of Rivington and Old Street stands a decayed building enlivened by graffiti of a TV thrown through a window, its cord trailing through shattered glass, and in Essex Road, three children pledge allegiance to a raised Tesco bag. One particularly bizarre image is found in Farrington, depicting a cash machine lifting a young girl by the waist with a forbidding mechanical arm. Many of the pieces are now sealed behind perspex with vital details altered or obscured, a common fate for street art.
You might not immediately connect ‘art’ to ‘train stations,’ but Kevin Atherton’s three bronze sculptures at Brixton Station are an arresting sight, frequently catching travelers unawares as they zip past and catch a glimpse of the metallic man leaning on the wall or leaden ladies staring across the tracks. The intriguing artworks were created in 1986 from lifecasts of three commuters who often stood at Brixton Station, giving the staid figures an added poignancy as the years go by. The male effigy casually rests a foot on the wall and waits with arms folded, while the female on the opposite platform perpetually clings to a carrier bag. Many claim the sculptures are the first made of black British citizens, and they are fondly regarded in the local community.
This decommissioned Soviet battle tank landed in London as a prop for 1995’s Richard III, before military enthusiast Russell Gray bought the T-34 relic as a birthday gift for his young son. Mr. Gray parked the vehicle on his plot of scrubland in Bermondsey after losing a planning application to build on the plot, and since then the shape-shifting death machine has undergone numerous makeovers, shedding its dulled grey for a gaudy pink at the hands of Cubitt Artists and Aleksandra Mir, before being reborn as a yellow Chicago taxi in its latest incarnation. Naturally, the oddball landmark also attracts its fair share of unwanted graffiti, though this only ends up adding to the effect. A far cry from the stateliness of picturesque Magdalen Church, Bermondsey’s most eccentric attraction is also arguably it’s most striking.
Seven Noses of Soho
Sculptor Rick Buckley reportedly made these casts from his own nose, seven of which are to be found poking from various walls in Soho. A surprisingly long-term project, Buckley’s snouts were placed between 1996 and 2005 and have been spotted on Bateman Street, Admiralty Arch, Meard Street, D’arblay Street, and Great Windmill Street. As well as providing plenty of sleuthing fun for tourists and locals, the noses are also the subject of an enduring myth: find all seven and benefit from unending wealth. Needless to say, no one has ever sniffed out the whole set, or if so they quietly left the country aboard a new yacht.