David Hamilton: Tube art as design

David Hamilton - Paddington

The Tube plays a huge part in the lives of Londoners, so it’s not surprising that most Tube stations are ingrained in their local community. As David Gentleman revealed in his interview yesterday, art and design commissions tend to consciously reflect the locality of the Tube station that they’re installed in; in the 1960′s, artists were commissioned to design tiles for each station on the new Victoria line to represent the area surrounding it.

Not all art created for the Underground serves the purpose of brightening journeys. Much of the art on the Underground created before the millenium plays a part in the wider ‘station identity’. To explain, the station identity is the colour scheme, architecture and elements of design or art featured throughout the station which differentiate one station from another – if you travel on different lines on the Underground, you’ll notice that the stations are designed quite differently from line to line!

David Hamilton was one of the artists tasked with creating art to function as design. In the early 1980s, Euston and Paddington stations were being refurbished, and David was commissioned to create artworks which would function as the design identities for both stations.

Hamilton Euston

Part of David’s design at Euston station

Below, he explains the ideas and approaches behind the two projects:

All the ‘Art in the Underground’ projects were undertaken as part of a major refurbishment scheme for all LU stations. Most were done with the LU Architects Department and others were given out as commissions to external architects’ offices.

Paddington started as an internal project in the architects department of London Underground but their scheme was rejected because it centred on the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel who was associated with the mainline station. I was asked to find schemes specific to the Underground station. The design in the now redeveloped booking hall originally featured the patent drawings for a tunnelling shield invented by Sir Mark Brunel and tunnelling shields became the theme for the scheme.

In most of the proposals at this time I used an historical theme and preferably with a local, sometimes unsung hero who could become the subject of the project so in case of Paddington it was Sir Mark Brunel who was the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. For Euston we found that the land originally belonged to the Fitzroy family and so we used their coat of arms as the starting point.”

View a slideshow of David’s finished design at Paddington Tube station below:


Creative Underground had a quick fire chat with David about art, design and the Tube.

CU: We’ve got to ask – what’s your favourite Tube station and why?

I guess Tottenham Court Road is my favourite station although I like many of the others which were were done by students and friends and they are all interesting in different ways. But Eduardo’s has an intensity, richness and a texture which sits in the background while you concentrate on your journey but rewards careful study if you have time or inclination to study the images and formal language of the work.

CU: What do you think art on the Underground means to passengers?

Art in the underground is like the chocolate snack dispensing machines: If you are busy going from one place to another and just want to get there as quickly as possible then you don’t pay much attention to what’s around. But if you have the time and the appetite you can help yourself to the art on the stations.

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