A journey from Spitalfields to Roche Court and back to Spitalfields Market

“A Pear and a Fig” (Bronze, 2005) is a large Still Life made for the Spitalfields Public Art project.

A Pear and a Fig Spitalfields - Ali Grant Sculpture Gloucestershire

This was Ali’s first major bronze and was originally planned as one of 8 temporary public installations to display until June 2006.

There were a number of permanent installations also commissioned as part of the 2005 programme.

After exhibiting at Bishop’s Square in Spitalfields, London the work became part of the collection at the New Art Centre, Roche Court but four years later “A Pear and a Fig” returned to its spiritual home at Spitalfields Market where it is has been on display for the last five years.

The bronze is currently on Brushfield Street, EC1

A Pear and a Fig Spitalfields - Ali Grant Sculpture Gloucestershire

 

The process to enter Ali’s first bronze for the programme began with a simple proposal and a clear understanding of the history and character of the area.

Ali Grant: Proposal for Spitalfields Public Art Sculpture Programme

“Just beyond the old market of Spitalfields archaeologists have discovered an area where the medieval hospital of St Mary Spital once stood. On this small spot were found the stone sarcophagus of a fourth-century Roman female; a fourteenth- century charnel house and graveyard; a fifteenth-century gallery from which civic dignitaries listened to the “Spital sermon”; evidence of a sixteenth-century artillery ground; London fortifications of the seventeenth-century; eighteenth-century dwelling; and part of a nineteenth-century street. More will emerge in time, although time itself has a thicker and more clouded atmosphere in such a place. The levels of the centuries are all compact, revealing the historical density of London. Yet the ancient city and the modern city literally lie beside each other; one cannot be imagined without the other. That is one of the secrets of the city’s power.”

Peter Ackroyd. London, The Biography

My proposal is to make a still life, modelled in clay and cast in metal which is then patinated. The sculpted fruit, vegetables and perhaps game-birds will be placed on plinths of differing heights which are themselves covered in folds of silk and velvet. The whole will be laid out on a large metal table with the opulence of a wealthy merchant’s banquet. The piece will have an outline that is, from a distance, almost that of a landscape and that draws the passer-by towards the feast. Close-up, the observer will see the details of the modelled clay, as you would see the brush-strokes in an oil painting; the sculptor as painter. The scale of the piece then requires the viewer to step back, perhaps to walk around the sculpture, and so an active engagement, an ebb and flow towards and away from the work takes place.

“…Men must endure

Their going hence, even as their coming hither:

Ripeness is all.”

King Lear: Act V scene ii, 9-11

The fruits will be ripe, some will perhaps have fallen from the table and lie on the ground, softened and decaying. I want to reflect the levels and the compacting of history that make up the site in Spitalfields. Still life was an art form in Roman times but particularly flourished in the seventeenth century in Holland. It took on a religious symbolism and worked as a “memento mori” a reflection of the human condition in the face of Nature. In Spain the genre is today known as “Vanitas”.

Abundance, the fruits of trade and commerce, decay and renewal, these themes are inextricable from the Spitalfields project. I propose to make a sculpture that would create a space, a pause in people’s busy lives to reflect on these ideas and to feel, as Peter Ackroyd writes,  “one of the secrets of this city’s power”.

 

This was refined to a final statement to go with the sculpture

Ali Grant: Statement for Spitalfields Public Art Sculpture Programme

“…Men must endure

Their going hence, even as their coming hither:

Ripeness is all.”

King Lear: Act V scene ii, 9-11

Pear and Fig is a Still Life.

The fruits are ripe to the point of softening just prior to decay. The fabric and block create composition; these fruits are not casual windfall. The piece does evoke the memory of the old market but I wish also to reflect upon the layers of  compacted history that make up the site in Spitalfields. The genre of Still Life in painting has existed since Roman times and was particularly popular in Holland during the 17th Century because it was a celebration of the new opulence that came with commerce.  This celebration however carries a reminder of the transience of life, a “memento mori” or “vanitas”. The material I use is clay, modelled by hand and cast into bronze. The manipulation of the clay suggests brushstrokes on canvas.

“…the ancient city and the modern city literally lie beside each other; one

cannot be imagined without the other. That is one of the secrets of the

city’s power.”

Peter Ackroyd. London, The Biography

 

I hope for a moment of stillness, a pause in people’s busy lives and time to reflect.

 

Yet the sculpture transferred perfectly to the peaceful surroundings of Roche Court sculpture park in Hampshire where it stayed for four years. On one level the message remains constant and that is relevant whatever the location.

Ali Grant Sculpture

 

But its true home is Spitalfields where long may it remain.