In 2020, Art on the Underground presented a large-scale public commission of permanent and temporary artworks by Scottish-born, Belgium-based artist Lucy McKenzie, titled Pleasure’s Inaccuracies.
McKenzie is fascinated by the decoration of public spaces such as train stations, and her work frequently combines source material from the realms of historical design, advertising and architecture. For what was her most ambitious public commission to date, she chose Sudbury Town Tube station, a historic, listed building designed by Charles Holden in 1931, for its location and architecture. Situated outside of central London, with a cavernous main hall, original features and waiting rooms on each platform, the station is evocative of another era.
By respecting Sudbury Town’s original design, McKenzie’s commission reflects the present through the aesthetics of the past. The commission comprised a number of elements: two permanent hand-painted ceiling murals featuring maps of the local area; a highly detailed architectural model of the station which will remain on permanent display; two large billboards installed on each platform; and a series of posters which was on display until April 2022.
The permanent ceiling murals in each waiting room feature maps of the immediate surrounding areas, highlighting local landmarks from the past and present. The detailed works incorporate the existing ceiling lights in a design which echoes the original Modernist lamps on the platforms. Maps are a recurrent feature in McKenzie’s practice – an art form obliged to express data, connected to a specific time and place and combining reality with the imaginative. For her ceiling murals, McKenzie studied the extensive historical advertising material in the Transport for London archives and has referenced the work of Herry Perry (Heather Perry) and RP Gossop. This interest was also reflected in two large billboards situated on each platform and a series of two posters installed on a heritage kiosk within the station.
In exploring the archives, McKenzie furthered her extensive research into advertisements from the inter-war period, a vibrant time for design before photography replaced illustration. The billboards resembled advertising in form style but were vastly enlarged reproductions of sketches, full of imperfect texture and materiality. From a distance they could be read as adverts for ambiguous products but closer inspection revealed their handcrafted process. By using optical illusion on each billboard, McKenzie extended them into their direct surroundings and rooted them in their location. The scale of the detailed architectural model of the station, which features McKenzie’s newly commissioned artworks in perfect miniature, also make the viewer aware of their physical presence and Sudbury Town’s specific environment.