Londoners and tourists alike are familiar with the sight of Union Jack flags hanging horizontally along The Mall to celebrate royal events, but artist-designed flags flying in central London is an uncommon event and cause for celebration. Yinka Shonibare, Farshid Moussavi, Isaac Julien, Vanessa Jackson and Michael Armitage—all Royal Academicians—have designed flags, pedestrian crossings and an immersive film installation that can be experienced until the end of August 2021.
Londoners last saw artist flags fly in 2018 when the Royal Academy of Art commissioned four Royal Academicians—Grayson Perry, Cornelia Parker, Rose Wylie and Joe Tilson—to design two flags each in celebration of the RA’s 250th anniversary. Two hundred flags were flown across Piccadilly, Regent Street, Bond Street and Regent Street, St James’s. The current Piccadilly-based public art commission is part of The Mayor of London’s ‘Let’s Do London’ tourist campaign. Commissioned by Art of London, the brief includes pedestrian crossings, airborne flags and an immersive augmented reality film by Isaac Julien shown on the famous giant advertising screens at Piccadilly Circus. Thirty flags and thirteen newly designed pedestrian crossings blanket the area around Piccadilly Circus.
The two-dimensional aspect of flags and super flat pavement designs seem to cross-reference the Japanese postmodern Superflat movement—known for bold shapes and colours and lack of perspective—with the concept of a magic carpet ride. Vanessa Jackson’s designs for the pedestrian crossings titled Up Town Dancing are bold and colourful, but their restrained geometry suggests order and conformity rather than 1960s-style libertine freedom; a mood in keeping with a cautious return to ‘normal’ after a long lockdown.
Those unable to visit London before the end of August will be pleased to know this is unlikely to be the last streetscape intervention by artists. London-based artist Yinka Ilori is leading the ‘Asphalt Art’ series of commissions supported by The City of London Corporation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Cheapside Business Alliance. Based on the success of Asphalt Art initiatives in cities throughout the US, Londoners can expect more pavement-based installations in the coming year.
The Piccadilly Art Takeover is a partnership between the Royal Academy of Arts, Art of London (an initiative of Heart of London Business Improvement District), Westminster City Council and The Mayor of London