‘Lieutenant’ Les Contemplates Public Art

One of Les’s early childhood memories was being slightly bewildered by a sculpted water feature which had been unveiled in the city centre.  Looking back now he would now describe it as a brutalist concrete structure standing about four metres high.  Essentially a big cube with textured and carved surfaces some of which were tiled and had water flowing down them replenishing the water in the square shaped shallow pool at it’s base.  

Up until seeing this rather odd installation most things in Les’s life revealed their purpose or function in more obvious ways.  As a young lad this big lump of concrete was more challenging and left him thinking what it might be or what it was meant to do.  It’s abstract shape wasn’t an object of wonder but rather something of a mystery and he thought it must be something for grown ups.  He liked the burbling sound of the water but he could get that when he built dams in the local stream.  Building dams was far more fun that looking at a lump of damp concrete.  Occasionally someone would mischievously add a bottle of washing-up liquid to the water which circulated through the sculpture.  This would result in the lump of concrete turning into a mass of foaming bubbles which overflowed onto the street.  It was those moments that Les enjoyed it most. It brought to mind ways in which he could be naughty doing things he shouldn’t but which made him happy.

Most people expect art to be housed in galleries, churches or perhaps stately homes and each of these environments can present barriers to people either enjoying or understanding art.  Galleries and even stately homes can feel intimidating particularly for people who feel they don’t really understand the art world.  Art in public places on the other hand is far less intimidating and easy for people to either ignore or enjoy and interestingly if asked about a public work of art, everyone will have an opinion.  

Love or hate art in public place, we all respond consciously or subconsciously to it’s presence in our lives.  It can make us feel happy or stir us into considering the subject or contemplate our relationship to the artist’s intentions. 

Les has always enjoyed the presence and power of public art. It’s capacity to lift or shift our mood or focus our attention. That it can transform an environment, draw people together and start conversations.   Les’s early encounter with the large concrete cube hadn’t started him on a positive footing with public art.  However he had learned it could pull people together as well as divide opinion. How each of us will have a different response.  Be it anger, laughter, quiet reflection or casual acknowledgement there is never a right or wrong way to respond.  The concrete block had been an early introduction to public art and perhaps it had sowed the seeds for his interest in art.  It was definitely responsible for him becoming more interested in his surroundings and maybe the reason why he often stops to take in everything from street art, sculpture, the way a building is illuminated and even water features! 

No longer living in the same city, Les had for years remained curious about the concrete block. Last year he decided to break his train journey with an unscheduled stop just so he could return to see the sculpture.  He had wondered what it might look like through his adult eyes.  Perhaps unsurprisingly it had been removed.  There was no evidence it ever existed and there was nothing in its place.  Les was sad the sculpture had been removed and that he had been denied the opportunity of reassessing this particular work of art.  He resumed his train journey where he reflected on the lasting impact of art. His sadness melted into into a smile when he realised his memories mattered more.  He knew the concrete block had quietly taught him a few life lessons and they were still present in his life.  He liked that his memories were testament to the enduring power of art.  He took out his notebook to capture some of his thoughts…

Les has chosen a song about the importance of self belief and art as a catalyst for social change: Art School by The Jam – Listen HERE

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