WB Yeats awarded with London sculpture


It’s a surprising fact that the only poet raised in England to win the Nobel Prize for Literature has no monuments anywhere in England – nowhere in the UK, in fact.

This is less surprising when one remembers that the poet is WB Yeats who, although he spent most of his youth, for two years, in London, and lived there until the age of 57, became the Irish national poet, with his reflections on England and Ireland, becomes a complex mirror of his time and those in which we now live.

Until now, Bedford Park, where Yeats grew up, has not considered celebrating the Irish poet whose genius he fostered.

(The stone base of Enwrought Light, located between the pavement and the gray sidewalk from Yeats’ best-known poem, will be engraved with the words that inspired Conrad Shawcross’s uplifting artwork.

A few years ago, English Heritage suggested placing a blue plaque on Blenheim Road, Chiswick, home where Yeats, in his twenties, wrote The Lake Isle of Innisfree, met Maud Gonne, co-founded the Irish Literary Society and wrote, at the request of a neighbor. , his first play.

The idea for the plaque was misplaced, however, with a resident of Bedford Park pointing out that “the old man,” John Butler Yeats, a highly regarded conversationalist but not quite a portrait painter, “was always late with his rent. “.

They have long memories here: and the remark echoes James Joyce’s observation that an Englishman’s greatest pride was that he had always paid his way.

So what has changed to inspire local residents to campaign for a piece of art to celebrate Yeats in Bedford Park? Especially such a striking, uplifting, dazzling piece of art, in its take on the swirling, twirling genius of Yeats and the centrifugal and ambitious ideas of Bedford Park, like Conrad Shawcross’ Enwrought Light in the image above?

And why would around 200 local residents choose to fund a project celebrating – in their midst – the literary genius of Ireland and its role in its cultural renaissance? It’s with artists, poets, actors, academics, Yeats, etc. from Great Britain, Ireland and the United States, and supporters such as Marie Heaney, Roy Foster, Ciaran Hinds, Polly Devlin, Fergal Keane and many more whom you can join by pledging to support. the project here.

The answer is also the answer to the insult about the unpaid rent, which was in fact atypical of Bedford Park of the 1890s and also of present-day Bedford Park – a place which in the second half of the 20th century was very more and more thought of itself as a quietly pleasant London suburb with impressive architectural features.

A Bedford Park that had apparently forgotten its role as a progressive, egalitarian, aesthetic, feminist / suffragist, theosophist, transcendentalist, multicultural, cosmopolitan, anti-imperial, anti-colonial and even vaguely anarchist, center and crucible for all 20th century all its advancements, the kind of place for creatives like the Yeats and their many artist friends and acquaintances, like Bedford Park and Chiswick in general, are increasingly seen as a creative hub and cultural district. today.

John Butler Yeats, of Co Down, and Susan Pollexfen Yeats, of Sligo, took their children to an industrial Victorian London with craggy, dark houses, so Yeats Snr was delighted to hear from artist friends that Jonathan Carr, born in Dublin, was building a new Arts – & – Crafts Village near the Thames designed for “common happiness”: the first “garden suburb” ever, although copied around the world, it had its own inn, its shops, its church, its art school and its social club – to which men and women were, only for London in the 19th century, admitted equally.

And the society they would find there over the years, Ukrainian anarchists, a Virginian abolitionist, Irish historians, French impressionists, Roger Casement, sometimes, small press editors, actors and scenographers, Icelandic academics, the second British Asian MP. , as well as Fabians, spiritual seekers, Irish and Indian Home Rulers and a descendant of Pocahantas, created between them a colony of artists animated by sparkling ideas and a bohemian / utopian near-commune in which the young WB Yeats became not only a poet and playwright but developed, for a former high school student in London, an Irish nationalism alien to both his Anglo-Irish upbringing Sligo and his peers in the gentlemen’s clubs in London and Dublin.

Or, as Bob Geldof recently put it, promoting our art project: “Bedford Park is where the national poet understood what it was to be impoverished, foreign, exiled, become obsessed with a woman who would haunt his life and give birth to the greatest poetry of the 20th century. Surrounded by his extraordinary family and radically revolutionary neighbors, Bedford Park pushed the handsome young poet into the whirlwind of poetry that would give birth to a nation.

Conrad Shawcross RA, the youngest Royal Academician, whose London public works of art include The Dappled Light of the Sun, Royal Academy Courtyard, Greenwich Peninsula's Optic Cloak, and Paradigm at the Crick Institute.

Conrad Shawcross RA, the youngest Royal Academician, whose London public works of art include The Dappled Light of the Sun, Royal Academy Courtyard, Greenwich Peninsula’s Optic Cloak, and Paradigm at the Crick Institute.

It is the Bedford Park of ideas – as much as of architecture – that a new generation of residents has decided to celebrate, with no more striking evidence of the benefits of the principle of “community happiness” than the worldwide success of the gangly, dreamy schoolboy. which stood “on the pavement” or “on the gray sidewalks” next to where Conrad Shawcross ‘work will be held on Yeats’ birthday next year!

Finding an artist to capture this combination of poetic genius and spirit of place, inspiring and inspiring atmosphere and vibe, turned out, in the end, to be rather straightforward: London’s leading international artist in the sphere of public artwork is clearly the Perfect Fit Conrad Shawcross, a young London visual artist from a literary family (his mother Marina Warner is lecturing at Yeats Summer School in Sligo this year) to create his tribute to a young London literary artist from a family of visual artists.

Shawcross had spent some time re-reading Yeats, visiting Bedford Park, and talking to local residents with a growing sense of the Arts – & – Crafts movement’s desire to make aesthetics a daily experience, leading it to focus in particular on He Wishes for the Cloths by Yeats. from Heaven, of which he says:

“When the project was launched in 2018 at the Irish Embassy in London in Grosvenor Place, it was a reading of this particular poem by the incredible Ciarán Hinds that drew my attention to these particular lines:

Equipped with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dark and the dark fabrics

Of the night and the light and the twilight …

“The rich physical description of the material and the sense of time through the evolution of light were really powerful images for me, and led directly to the work on offer, which is not just ‘enriched’ or made from ‘golden and silver light’, but also, although static, will be transformed throughout the day and night, with the seasons, by ever-changing weather conditions and by the arc position of the sun and the sun. moon in “the heavens”. “

To some, Shawcross’s 4.5m-tall work depicts a swirl of golden autumn leaves in the tree-lined groves of Bedford Park, a flock of white birds that appear in Yeats’ work, a flight of angels that appear in poems from Yeats’s Bedford Park period. (as well as adorning the cover and frontispiece of his 1895 poems) and which happen to be dedicatees of St Michael and All Angels, the Yeats family parish church from 1879 to 1902 with occasional gaps, which stands behind the helical and tetrahedral Shawcross vortex.

The work itself has received a £ 25,000 award from the Royal Academy which has helped the fund reach £ 105,000 so far (of a target of £ 135,000), with support from the Irish Embassy, who considers Yeats’ homage to mark a particularly important intertwining of the British. and Irish cultural aspects and as validation of London-Irish and Irish cultural status. The Hounslow Borough Thriving Communities Fund also supported the project’s role in creating community cohesion through shared cultural heritage and honoring the contribution of migrant families to our common culture.

Quite a dramatic change from a conservation area of ​​London that once considered a family of world-famous Irish artists to be unrelated to their place in history!


About Edward Weddle

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