New Public Art Brightens Up Kensington & Chelsea’s High Streets During Lockdown

With lockdown meaning shutters down for most shops, our high streets aren’t the vibrant community hubs that we know and love, but a new public art initiative is transforming high streets in Kensington & Chelsea

Photography: Graham Fudger / KCAW

Empty shop fronts in South Kensington and High Street Kensington are being transformed with a series of vibrant public art pieces to lift the mood and support local communities during these difficult winter months.

High Street Windows, commissioned by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and produced by Kensington & Chelsea Art Week (KCAW), the creative organisation behind the annual KCAW Public Art Trail, will see eight artists overhaul empty retail spaces to offer meaningful, uplifting interactions for passers by.

‘Despite the inevitable slow-down, our objective is to offer that extra bit of support to our local area in a thoughtful and creative way,’ says KCAW Founder and Director Vestalia Chilton. ‘Many art shows have also been cancelled, and this is another way to keep our creative economy going not just in the Royal Borough, but across the UK.’

The first five windows have been created by artists Ian Kirkpatrick and Fiona Grady in High Street Kensington with Dotmasters, Alexander Ikhide and Gala Bell installing work in South Kensington. A further three installations are to be completed shortly.

Dotmasters, the street practice of the artist Léon Seesix, has transformed 35-36 Thurloe Place in South Kensington with a series of experimental light installations offering a sideways look at a populist media, made with a typically English sense of humour.  The entire building is transformed into a giant, glowing light box, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside.

At 193 Kensington High Street, Nocturne by Ian Kirkpatrick combines lost landmarks such as the Crystal Palace with mythological figures inspired by Whistler, Oscar Wilde, Francis Bacon, Charles Ricketts and Aubrey Beardsley.

‘Nocturne reimagines the borough’s famous gardens run amok by mischievous dinosaurs, sphinxes, satyrs and fairies’

The word ‘Nocturne’ was coined by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, once a local resident, to describe a painting evoking the magical spirit of night. The artwork reimagines the borough’s famous gardens run amok by mischievous dinosaurs, sphinxes, satyrs and fairies.

Also on Kensington High Street is Art Deco Paradise by Fiona Grady, a bespoke installation inspired by the Art Deco department stores such as Derry & Toms and Barkings of Kensington, which helped establish Kensington High Street as the centre of retail during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Multidisciplinary artist Alexander Ikhide has taken over 24-25 Cromwell Place. His practice explores identity, culture and history, raising questions of representation of the Black body in a contemporary context.

Gala Bell’s Fry Up is located at 32 Thurloe Place in South Kensington, with the artist comparing painting to cooking: ‘In a cross over between the comfort of the kitchen and the dominion of the studio, it felt perfect that any artwork should undergo hot oil in the method of deep-frying,’ says Bell. ‘Both the space of the kitchen and the space of the studio operate as a lab of material transformation.’

Find out more at kcaw.co.uk/high-street