Since I began looking for public sculptures with narratives different from those of the questionable Edward Colston and Cecil Rhodes, I’ve realised that there’s a well-established tradition of egalitarian and popular monuments in England going back at least eighty years.
The latest in my collection is The Neighbours by Siegfried Charoux in Highbury Quadrant, north London, brought to my attention by Municipal Dreams on Twitter.
English Heritage says of this listed structure, “Figurative sculpture. Commissioned 1957, unveiled 1959. Siegfried Charoux, sculpture, for the London County Council on the recommendation of the Arts Council. Cemented iron, four feet high. Two figures, realistically portrayed yet demonstrating an idealism of ‘working man’. A strong and humane representation that well suits its setting, and demonstrating the range of the LCC’s patronage.”
The post-war decades of social reconstruction, public enterprise and of art for the people also produced public murals in the same vein. I wrote earlier about the dusty and neglected History of the Old Kent Road by Adam Kossowski, also commissioned by a London local authority. Kossowski’s narrative recalls that of the South Bank Exhibition the 1951 Festival of Britain, with its displays on “The People of Britain”, “The New Schools,” “Sport” and “The Seaside”. Although they appear didactic now, this was the era of the 1944 Education Act, the NHS, New Towns and the meritocracy.
Less didactic but still demotic was Roland Emmett’s mosaic map in Hemel Hempstead.
The tide of democratic public art is so high now that it’s begun to wash round the plinths of the generals and slave traders, all of which which are all over a hundred years old. The fact that democratic sculpture has received so little attention in the current debate reflects the fact that no-one really takes much notice of public art.