Subway Tiles Gems in the London Underground
We introduced you to the world of NYC subway tiles recently – did you know how much public art was available on a daily commute in the Big Apple? Well, great mosaic art certainly isn’t confined to this side of the Atlantic! This week, we’re visiting London to get inspiration from the amazing mosaic wall art that decorates its Underground system.
The notion of integrating art and the tube started in the early 1900s with the head of the network, Frank Pick, developed a series of poster designs by leading artists at the time including Man Ray and Graham Sutherland. During the 1930s he championed for the inclusion of permanent works such as grilles, tiles and elaborate windows, and his legacy lives on in the continuation of new art and design at tube stations.
Old and New Mosaic Designs for Inspo
With 270 stations, and seventy-one of them designated as historically significant, there’s a wide variety of subway tiles to appreciate, and a wealth of ideas for inspiration. The oldest location we’ll visit is Baker Street, which dates back to 1863.
However, the mosaic pattern you see here is much more recent. This station celebrates the long association that the fictional Sherlock Holmes has with Baker Street. The detective’s distinctive profile, showing his deerstalker hat and signature smoking pipe, also decorates individual tiles at other spots along the platforms.
Tottenham Court Road’s station was built in 1900, and the colors and lines in some areas show the 1920’s update.
Elsewhere, however, the look is very modern, with work by Eduardo Paolozzi. His works, famous for their color and lively patterns, are his interpretation of the local area and his interest in mechanical movement.
The walls of this station are covered with his work, providing a wonderful place to stop for a moment and appreciate the small details of each piece of mosaic art. (But beware of busy commuter hours!)
Another color-rich station is Regent’s Park. The green hues date back to 1906! With the prevalence of strong greens coming back into fashion, these glowing walls are probably influencing a lot of people who pass through this station twice a day. We predict a surge of glorious emerald kitchen backsplashes in the Fitzrovia and Marylebone areas of London!
A Victorian Trip
One stop down from Regent’s Park, the Oxford Circus Station has a totally modern tile art installation. Linking to the Victorian Line, it introduces us to a series of designs that relate to each point along the route. The clean, simple art would look great in many homes! Some of the pieces are quite obvious in their inspiration, others require a bit of puzzling it out.
Here’s the art at Blackhorse Road – nothing mysterious about the meaning of this piece!
This strongly geometric design might seem to be strictly abstract, until you realize what the name of the station is: Brixton!
Here’s Finsbury Park – any guesses on why this artwork was chosen?
If the meaning eludes you, one can merely enter the station to enjoy a glorious cloud of mosaic art balloons, commissioned by the Underground and completed in the 1980s by artist Annabel Grey. It’s a good spot to pause and appreciate the sheer number and variety of tiles used. Grey and her team were even allowed to buy a large amount of gold mosaic, which represents just one of 52 different colors of tiles that were shipped from Vincenza.
Our last stop on the Victoria Line is the Victoria Station. Here, the silhouette shown on the mosaic wall art is quite famous – and easy to recognize, considering the context.
Nature, Even Underground
You might recall that we talked about the influence of the natural world on recent design trends. With this in mind, we also went into the Tube to look for hints of animal and plant life in the mosaic wall art.
When one refers to their trusty London guidebook they might read:
“The decorations for the Piccadilly Line are based on architectural details of the nearby Natural History Museum…. The Westbound platform depicts extinct animals and the Eastbound platform living animals.”
Definitely not extinct is the red fox you see here.
Slightly more abstract, but still recognizably avian, is the Speedbird logo of the former British Overseas Airways Corporation. Seen now, the color contrast is very appealing. You might have read about Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2020: Classic Blue. Here’s a great inspiration for a color to combine it with! If you’d like to appreciate this mosaic art in person, simply stop off at the Hatton Cross station on the Piccadilly Line.
Should you visit Eduardo Paolozzi’s mural, see if you can spot this chicken among all the other motifs he blends into his work.
The Art on the Underground project follows up on the early support of public art we talked about at the beginning of our blog. Originally titled Platform for Art, it was established in 2000. Through it, artists – including those who work in tile, glass mosaic wall art, and other mediums – are invited to develop new artworks for the Underground.
Here, we’ll explore a few of the more popular pieces. Even if your tastes don’t run to more abstract art, you’re sure to find ideas for your own mosaic art decor.
“Wrapper” by Jacqueline Poncelet is an immense installation at the Edgware Road station. Completed in 2012, it was conceived as a cover for the new building and perimeter wall at this Tube station. Each pattern on the work relates to a different part of the local area. It pulls together elements of the area’s history, nature, architecture, and people in a huge patchwork.
The longest piece of artwork in the Underground is perhaps the Labyrinth series by Mark Wallinger. He has created 270 individual artworks, one for each station on the network, each with a unique circular labyrinth. Positioned at the entrance of each labyrinth is a red X.
They’re a popular tour, and beloved by locals. One can even download a mobile app to accompany their journey to each piece.
Slightly outside the box, the Seven Sisters Underground station was treated to an exterior tile treatment, as artist Matthew Raw refurbished it with thousands of handmade tiles. The piece was directly influenced by the innumerable subway tile designs used in the system. We feel that this is a fitting place to leave our tour, as we’ve come full circle!
Feeling Inspired? Custom Mosaics Are For You!
Although it’s hard impossible to take a full-sized rendition of Underground subway tile art home in your suitcase, we can create any design for you! We can work with photographs, sketches, and drawings, producing a stunning piece of mosaic wall art to your exact specifications. If you’ve found inspiration on your travels, we can bring it to life in your own home.
Have you ever seen a piece of subway tile art that you’d love to look at every day? Let us know in the comments!