We’re set (thanks to all our backers, below) to unveil on 6th September 2022 at the ‘gateway’ to the world’s-first garden suburb with its beautifully conserved Arts & Crafts environment, this dazzling Yeats-inspired sculpture (left) by artist (and youngest Royal Academician), Conrad Shawcross RA with, engraved in a wide circular stone base, Yeats’s lines…
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light
The lines, inspiring Shawcross’s upward helical spiral, are taken from Yeats’s He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, a poem partly inspired by Yeats’s sister Lily’s Arts-&-Crafts tapestry-work for Wm. Morris nearby, and partly by Bedford Park’s underlying aesthetic ethos of bringing beauty into everyday life as part of a work/life/art ‘balance’.
For some, Shawcross’s shapes will invoke flights of birds (Yeats’s poetry is rich with bird life from rooks and white sea-birds to swans, and nightingales of gold enamelling in Byzantium). For others the piece will echo the foliage of Bedford Park’s leafy, wooded avenues (its escape from city to pastoral) or Yeats’s sacred Celtic hazel woods. For others still, perhaps, a choir of angels in flight, angels being not simply a key element in Arts-&-Crafts symbolism, in Yeats’s poetry, and in the design — by a Bedford Pasrk neighbour — of his 1895 poetry collection, but the dedicatees of the adjoining Church of St. Michael & All Angels.
Shawcross’s vision invokes, in contemporary artwork, such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make / Of hammered gold and gold enamelling to quote Yeats’s Sailing to Byzantium, and connects both with ancient Celtic gold-&-silver-work, and with the revival of gold and silver ornamentation in the richly Mediaevalist paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a number of whom shared William Morris’s aesthetic, lived in Bedford Park – John Butler Yeats’s reason for moving there – or exhibited at Grosvenor Gallery (co-director, J. Comyns Carr, brother of Dublin-born Bedford Park founder, Jonathan Carr).
Indeed the young Yeats himself painted, on his bedroom ceiling at 3 Blenheim Road (400 yds from the artwork’s planned location), a crowd of stars, a map of the constellations, and over the years filled his poems with moon and stars, light and flame, mirrors and reflections.
The vertically-rising form will invite the viewer, the passerby, to look upwards, as art and poetry ask us to ‘aspire’: much as Yeats, in one early Bedford Park poem bade his soul rise upward, just as he rose above, in his famous Lake Isle of Innisfree, London’s traffic-laden Victorian roadways and pavements grey. Yeats was a passionate believer in looking up with the lidless eye that loves the sun, in looking to clouds and star-laden skies, to flights of swans, to the even higher-flying eagle, in looking towards a cold and rook-delighting heaven.
Shawcross’s upwardly-spiralling flourish not only echoes Yeats’s archetypal towers and winding stairs, and his exploration of historical cycles in terms of spiralling gyres, but visually represents the upsurging of Yeats’s artistic genius at the heart of Bedford Park’s progressive, aspirational and aesthetic community, while invoking the very spirit of Bedford Park rising above the quotidian and spreading its communitarian concepts to a wider world.
GK Chesterton would later maintain Bedford Park had effectively conquered the world &, viewed with hindsight, this first-garden-suburb’s ‘radical’ 19th-century ideas (traditional crafts, environmental awareness, healthier housing, open spaces, egalitarianism, shared communal venues, creative networks, vegetarianism, gender equality, abolitionism, anti-colonialism/anti-imperialism, exploration of world religions and a revitalised search for a spiritual dimension) all became increasingly dominant themes in late-20th- and early-21st-century living.
Shawcross’s own unique artistic development (traced in the recent critical exploration, Psychogeometries) with its physics/metaphysics approach and its distinctive interests in both process, materials and craftsmanship on the one hand, and in fusing scientific and artistic sources of inspiration on the other – sources from literature, mathematics, choreography, mechanics, visual art and musical intervals/harmonics – approaches Yeats’s ideas of perfection in ‘Unity of Being’: Yeats himself, as a young resident of Bedford Park and pupil at nearby Godolphin School was, ironically, more successful in scientific subjects than he was in Latin and English.
It is appropriate, therefore, that we should celebrate the young Yeats as an innovative 19th/20th-century London-based arts practitioner interacting across all the arts and particularly committed to the arts in the public sphere, by engaging with our leading contemporary London sculptor (and the youngest Royal Academician), an artist whose work is currently defining public art in the capital and around the world, from artworks in country estates, museums and stately homes to public parks and communal spaces including recently, the Royal Academy courtyard’s Dappled Light of the Sun, Greenwich Peninsula’s highly-visible London-gateway Optic Cloak (enveloping artistically a significant eco-friendly low-energy heat and light source for 15,000 homes, a truly Bedford-Park-ish concept rebooted) and the iconic Paradigm, merging art and science outside the Crick Institute, the latter inspiring comparable public enthusiasm in London to that inspired by Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North in Newcastle/Gateshead 20 years ago!
The artwork will be located:
- at the ‘gateway’ to Bedford Park
- visible from the roadways and the the pavements gray the young poet walked to school (and later to nearby homes of literary friends including actor Florence Farr, poet John Todhunter, poet/editor WE Henley and author, political activist and Arts & Crafts exponent Wm Morris)
- by St. Michael & All Angels Church where the family worshipped (Yeats’s grandfather and great-grandfather were both Anglican clergymen), a cultural and community focal point
- en route from Turnham Green District Line Station which the Yeatses used to travel in and out of central London for poetry, art, theatre, discussions and debates (and visible from Piccadilly and District Line Tube trains)
- within a short distance of No.8 Woodstock Road where the family lived from 1879
- en route to No.3 Blenheim Rd where they lived from 1888, where Yeats wrote The Lake Isle of Innisfree and where the Irish Literary Society was founded (still a major literary organisation in London’s cultural life)
- within sight of the former Bedford Park Club building on The Avenue (now reborn as the London Buddhist Vihara), where Yeats attended lectures on Eastern religions, where Yeats’s father debated the day’s issues with Bedford Park neighbours, and where local amateur dramatics inspired Yeats’s own symbolist drama, leading to the creation of the world-renowned Abbey Theatre, Symbolist drama and to a Celtic cultural revival.
- close to Bedford Park’s Arts & Crafts pub, The Tabard, named for the inn in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and to the former Bedford Park Community Stores and Chiswick School of Art attended by WB’s brother Jack and sisters Elizabeth and Susan; the Art School’s location now houses performing arts school, ArtsEd
- facing Acton Green, the local ‘village green’ where the Yeatses enjoyed fairs and circuses (inspiring WB’s poems and Jack B’s paintings) and from where John Butler Yeats’s fellow painters painted views of this unusual garden suburb
- and twenty minutes’ walk from the Thames and Chiswick Eyot, the island that inspired Yeats’s Lake Isle of Innisfree.
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Our backers to-date include: Royal Academy, Dukes Education, Embassy of Ireland (London), Embassy of Ireland (Washington), London Borough of Hounslow, London Borough of Ealing, Bedford Park Society, Irish Literary Society, London Buddhist Vihara, Chiswick Pier Trust, The Tabard (Yeats's local!), The Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation, WB Yeats Society of New York, WB Yeats Society of Savannah, Horton and Garton, Lab 99 Web Design, Jimmy Page and Scarlett Sabet, Rowan Williams, Bob Geldof, Marie Heaney, Jeremy Vine, Carmen Callil, Anne-Marie Fyfe, Polly Devlin, Tom Paulin, Roy Foster, Joan McBreen, Edna and Michael Longley, Fergal Keane, Patrick Corcoran, Miles Parker, Tom Sleigh, Anthony Byrne, Frances O'Leary, Kate McAlister, Kevin McNally, Phyllis Logan, Shevaun Wilder, Ciarán Hinds, Martin and Joyce Enright, Marina Warner, Joseph Hassett, Ron Schuchard, Nessa O'Mahony, countless poets, actors, academics, Yeats fanatics, and lovers of all the arts, and literally hundreds of local Bedford Park residents, all listed on our two crowdfund websites