Art on the Elizabeth Line: travel through London’s newest (and most spread-out) public gallery

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 Simon Periton at Farringdon station (Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ. Photo: GG Archard, 2022 )
Simon Periton at Farringdon station (Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ. Photo: GG Archard, 2022 )

Four decades after its initial proposal, and 13 years after physical work began, the Elizabeth lineopened on Tuesday. In a plush royal purple, the new line – which connects Reading and Heathrow, with Paddington, Bond Street, Stratford and Romford – had 130,000 passengers pile on the train just hours after its opening.

If you haven’t visited yet, the stations alone are worth viewing. Think massive champagne-coloured metal surfaces, gigantic platforms as long as the shard, futuristic escalators and tonnes of contemporary art: TfL and Crossrail have joined forces to present their most ambitious presentation of public art ever.

Each Elizabeth line station has worked with a specific gallery and artist, who has then transformed certain elements of either the station or the ticket hall – and the works are there to stay.

The commissioned artists include Turner Prize winner Richard Wright at Tottenham Court Road station, British artist Simon Periton at Farringdon, London-based British artist Chantal Joffe at Whitechapel, Israeli artist Michal Rovner at Canary Wharf and American artist Spencer Finch at Paddington.

Sonia Boyce OBE RA – the recent Venice Biennale Golden Lion prize winner – has also created a mile-long artwork (one of the longest in the UK) which will run through Custom House, Silvertown and North Woolwich.

Chantal Joffe at Whitechapel Station (Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Photo: Prudence Cumming Associates, 2022)
Chantal Joffe at Whitechapel Station (Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Photo: Prudence Cumming Associates, 2022)

“It’s the biggest scale project in London transport’s history,” says Eleanor Pinfield, Head of Art on the Underground. “It feels amazing that London is a city that prioritises great art and great design - but actually it’s not surprising. London is a beacon of culture and vibrancy, and it’s just bringing it all together here.

“We want people to be excited, intrigued, engaged. That’s what these projects do and that’s what these artworks do, and they’re going to keep on doing it for years to come.”

The project isn’t even completed yet: In the future, we can look forward to more installations from internationally renowned artists, including Yayoi Kusama at Liverpool Street, video artwork from Turner Prize-winner Douglas Gordon at Tottenham Court Road, and three abstract artworks by British artist Darren Almond at Bond Street.

For art fans, the Elizabeth line tube stations may soon be counted as a hot destination.

Each of the artists has created site-specific work, corresponding to and inspired by the community around each station. Joffe, for example, has created giant portraits of Whitechapel locals – based on real people that she remembers from the station years ago.

There’s a woman brushing her hair on the tube, an elegant man wearing a cream jumper, another man caught in motion – perhaps Joffe remembers him from the morning commute. Joffe has also sneaked in an image of her daughter Esme.

Simon Periton at Farringdon station (Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ. Photo: GG Archard, 2022)
Simon Periton at Farringdon station (Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ. Photo: GG Archard, 2022)

Each of the figures has been created using specially cut coloured sheets of metal layered to look like a breezy collage. For Joffe there are dozens of ideas at play, all around the theme of community: the artist wanted to bring a softer element to the giant cavernous tube platforms, wanted to represent the neighbourhood, and wanted to create images that would become familiar and in the end, even become part of the tube station’s own crowd.

“This is very much a community and it had to represent that. I thought a lot about whether I had the right to do that, and ideas about who you have the right to depict. But I couldn’t not. I couldn’t not have the people who live here be part of it.”

This is Joffe’s first public art project and she has brought the intimacy she is known so well for in her paintings into this public space: “The private and the personal is what excited me,” said Joffe.

“It’s incredibly moving to be a part of,” added the artist. After years of work, “They’re here - they’re in the world. And people are seeing them, or as my daughter says, “not looking at them mum”. I like that they’re almost invisible, they’re like other people in the crowd. It feels magical to see them.”

British artist Simon Periton, whose artworks cover both of the new Elizabeth line Farringdon ticket halls, has also responded to his environment, but predictably the mood is very different in this spot on the edge of the City of London.

The first piece, Avalanche, is at the darker of the two entrances, down by Hatton Garden. It’s a series of diamond shapes - referencing the jewels for sale along this famous street - in different sizes, all printed with ceramic ink on glass.

The second entrance, the eastern ticket hall, is the lighter and brighter of the two. Periton’s Spectre is a giant sprawling white banner that covers all three sides of the entrance. It has also been created from ceramic ink printed on glass, but is lighter, like an engraving.

Richard Wright’s ‘no title’ at Tottenham Court Road (Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Photo: GG Archard, 2022)
Richard Wright’s ‘no title’ at Tottenham Court Road (Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Photo: GG Archard, 2022)

Inspired by pub doors and the Victorian metalwork that separates the two halves of Smithfield, the cut-out design will mean that interesting shapes form across the ticket hall as the light changes. It’s unobtrusive, so make sure to look up if you are passing through.

“You try to make something that communicates an idea on lots of different levels because lots of different people are going to come and see it. From small children to old people, to people who aren’t interested in art, it’s got to do lots of different things,” said Periton.

“It’s not like sitting in a gallery and looking for something for an hour. You don’t have that luxury. It has to be something that’s going to work on lots of mini repeated viewings.”

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