Art For Everyone : Public Art Installations

Read about the whole point of "Looking Around London" at this link here.

Get started with my pictures and thoughts on the London Tree Trunk Tour here.

The Tree Trunk Tour is going to be on Hamilton Road, and I'm blogging its creation here.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Sad Times on the (Shorter) Tree Trunk Tour

It is with a bit of sorrow that I write this post. After seeing this article in the London Free Press, I was able to confirm that several of the carvings have been designated for removal, as they have been deemed unsafe. The following carvings are either already gone, or will be removed soon, according to Tourism London.

On the subject of the expected life of a carving, Dave Broostad of, who have commissioned new trees, had his opinion printed in the paper.

Shining Brightly 
Rising Up On Eagle Wings
Convergence @ 23 Peter St.
Woodfield 1840-2007  (already removed)               
Come Together and Grow
Squirreltopia @ 799 Waterloo St.

There are no plans to re-install these carvings, in contradiction to the LFP article linked above.
I will be updating my Tree Trunk Tour Map, and the Overview Page shortly to reflect this unfortunate loss to the city's landscape.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Oh Metal Tree, Is that Art I see?

When a piece of sculpture, or painting, or brickwork, or even some kind of multimedia presentation is put in place by an artist, one of the first questions that comes to my mind is: Is it recognisable?

Recognisable, in this context, refers to two things. The first on is whether or not I can identify it as being out of the ordinary enough to be a piece of art. Sometimes things blend in to the architecture or landscape too well to be picked out by the unobservant. For example-
Do you see the art in this picture? Maybe thought it was something to do with the sign out front? No, no, the gold tubes hanging from the ceiling are sculpture called Wins/Losses/Ties. Here's a site with some other angles.

The second way in which I would want to evaluate recognition, is by asking if what is depicted is familiar enough, and presented clearly enough to merit more attention from the viewer. The Flatiron building mural in Toronto, Ontario is an example that springs to mind immediately.
It's an attention grabber, and it begs you to investigate further. The mural is a very skillful tromp l'oeil, and mixes real and painted elements seamlessly. Another reward for the careful viewer is that the mural depicts a reflection of the building across the street!
In a private collection, the space for abstract art, and more controversial pieces can certainly be quite large. Raising the bar too high on the intellectual or conceptual scale for publicly funded projects is a dangerous practise for politicians and public servants. Well received community arts projects are, by definition, for most of the people, most of the time.

Let us turn our attention to the sidewalks in downtown London, Ontario, and see how things measure up.

Can you spot the artwork in the picture? Stands out pretty well to me. This is a Sassafras tree at the side of the John Labatt Centre.

Here's another one, along the back of the courthouse.

Sure is red, isn't it? The trees are all painted one solid colour. The same six colours, three primary and three secondary, are used consistently throughout the installation. Teh clour is key to what makes these sculptures what they are.

There is a Facebook group dedicated to asking these trees to be taken down and replaced with real trees. I would point out that we have a fair amount of the real thing, like, on the right hand side of this photo, and what stands out most is the metal one in the middle.
Also kind of important is the lack of light and soil available where the metal trees are installed. But let's get back to the other criteria. Does the art invite the viewer to find out more?

That, in my mind, is a much tougher call to make with this installation. Each work is signed, and identified by the species of tree at the bottom by a wleded bead of metal. Other people with the Internet have complained about the colours of the trees being too garish, or not 'realistic'. To those people, I would ask a simple question: What would you notice about this installation if the trees were brown and green? Other than the colour, what gets attention directed towards one of these sculptures anyway?
Seeing one tree might not make you curious, but I would argue that after walking two or three blocks, you would certainly start to ask "How many of these trees are there, and why are they here?" Which is a good thing. I think its certainly a question you would want to come up if you were responsible for the installation.
The unfortunate part, is that there is no more information readily available in that regard.

This post is only about one thing, however, recognition of the art, and of how it presents itself. Hard to argue that the Metal Trees of the Carolinian Forest haven't succeeded. Whether or not they are admired isn't the point, its whether or not they are noticed. There's no Facebook group for any aspect of the Tree Trunk Tour, so you could argure the  recognition level is higher for this project.

Soon, I'll give my take on the next element of publicly funded art- Accessibility.

This site is all about public art, but more important than reading about it, is finding it and seeing it. Which is why I have begun to compile a gallery of all of these trees in London, and put these metal trees on a map as I go. I've also got a map for the Tree Trunk Tour and pages for the artists involved in all of these projects.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Metal Trees, Painted Brightly

In my first post, I talked about two types of art project I was going to look at in London, Ontario. The first was the carved wooden trunks in theTree Trunk tour. That first project, and its 18 trees, took over two months to complete and led to a little adventure and a new opportunity for my writing and photos over at, and their blog about the growth of the tour.

I did still want to get to the second thing that was on my original list of 'art in London', and it is, in fact, another tree related installation. Its proper name is 'Metal Trees of the Carolinian Forest'. If you've been to downtown London, I probably don't have to say anything else to have you picture one or more of these trees in your head. If you haven't had the opportunity to see one, they look like this:
I've taken the other colour out of the image for emphasis, so there it is. There are a large number of these trees within a few blocks of each other in the downtown core. I could write a very long post and try to fit them all in, but I'm sure that wouldn't keep my interest very long, let alone anyone else's. I have had a lot of opportunities to see, read about, and think about public art in the last couple of months, and I'm going to break the columns up into catergories. Public art, especially made with public funds, is open to criticism from every taxpayer. I'm going to take a look at what might make a project more or less acceptable to the general public, and to the institution commissioning the art, and compare it to what has happened with the metal tree installation you see above. There's been no shortage of media coverage since these trees started popping up in the downtown core, believe me.

Check back in the next few days, and I'll start by looking at the first factor in an art installation, recognizability.

Where is this tree? That's the corner of Dundas and Ridout. You can find it, and every other tree in the installation on my Carolinian Trees Map. I've also started building a gallery of tree images that you can click on over to.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Eldon House

There are currently 16 trees on the London Tree Trunk Tour, but now only 15 stops. If you are visiting London from outside of the city, there is a good chance that one of your first stops after leaving Highway 401 will be the London Tourism Visitors Centre.

'Eldon House', a carving representing one of London's other tourist attractions, is located beside the visitor's centre, at 696 Wellington Road South. This carving has recently been joined by Mother Nature, most likely due to issues with that trunk's structural stability in its old Queens Av. location. The Visitor's Centre is about a ten minute drive from downtown, so its not a walking tour, by any means. Having more that one sculpture in the same place does give people more of an opportunity to stop and take a look at what they are all about.

'Eldon House' is somewhat similar to 'Charles S. Hyman' in its construction. There are a few elements which were carved into the trunk itself, and many other parts of the design are plaques made in a workshop and attached to the tree once it was finished in this location.

There is, unlike any of the other stops on the tour, a commemorative plaque in front of the trunk, which gives a little bit of info about the carving, and also promotes Eldon House itself.

The trunk has large, rough, rounded flowers at the top, which look like daisies, or perhaps peonies, London's official flower. They face both the front and back of the piece.

The elements that relate to Eldon house itself are divided into 8 separate areas on the trunk. Two designs are placed every 90 degree turn around the tree, giving the carving 4 different 'faces' to look at.

The front face has an owl's face recessed into the top and carved in relief. It was carved from the solid piece of trunk. The bottom is a front view of Eldon house with its wide veranda. 

Travelling around the trunk counter-clockwise, the next face is two portraits, Amelia Ryerse Harris above, and John Harris below. These images appear to have been created from scans of official portraits inside the house.

The rear face of the carving has a compass on the top. John Harris was a surveyor in the British Navy, and one of the initial surveyors when Upper Canada was being mapped. This is likely what the compass represents. Below, there is a view of one of the ladies of Eldon House in the dining room.  The house was well known at the time for its hospitality. That reputation was not harmed by the fact that the Harris family had seven daughters to court.

The fourth face's plaques picture an elephant's foot umbrella stand, and a military soldier in a doorway. The umbrella stand is a well known trophy, collected by John's grandson George Henry Ronalds Harris during his time in Africa. The soldier is, if you look closely, somewhat transparent, which makes me think he represents the ghost of Eldon House. This story seems to have a higher level of interest than when I visited Eldon House on school field trips as a child.

 I would like to make a couple of notes about how the caving was made. The main body of the tree is a chainsaw carved trunk, with trees and leaves. Almost all of the detail work is slabs of wood carved with a computer aided design technique, and then attached after the trunk was placed in its location. For the chainsaw carving purist, this might not be what was expected in a sculpture. I'm also not sure how well the pieces will age and colour relative to the different wood on the trunk itself.

The signature is a subtle one again. The initials of Neil Cox, and Mary-Ann Jack-Bleach, the collaborating artists, are carved into
the trunk, above a date of 2010.

Although this is not a movie, I do have bonus footage! Check out the arrival and completion of this tree carving, courtesy of Tourism London.

Return to the Tree Trunk Tour Overview Page
Check out all the entries using the London Art Map  
Curious about this artist? Try Neil Cox's Links