Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lutterworth, Leicestershire

Why I like this

This tile panel is on the side of a building in the centre of Lutterworth. The building is now a coffee shop but was clearly once a pharmacy. The panel combines so many of my interests I couldn’t resist sharing it here. So here are my personal reasons for valuing this obscure bit of tiling, that enlivens a side wall in a backstreet.

First of all, the way builders and architects have used tiles – to decorate buildings, to form signs, to create wipe-down surfaces, and so on – has been a source of fascination for me for years. Whether it’s a Victorian gents or an underground station, a butcher’s shop or a house, tiles play their role, and bring a bit of colour into our lives in the process.

Second, it’s on a shop, and retail architecture, ignored by so many but omnipresent, rich in social history, and central to our daily lives, deserves more attention than it usually gets. I’m often struck by tiles on shops. I don’t just mean the ‘hygienic’ surfaces favoured by food retailers, but also – and especially – the way tiles can be used for display and advertisement: the vigorous and often artfully drawn animalier tiles once beloved of butchers ands fishmongers are a case in point; the tile lettering used by retailers such as Lipton’s is another. Here, the old symbols of the chemist – the flask, pestle and mortar – are given a mid-century modern interpretation.

Third is that mid-century modern period itself. The effort that was put into decorating buildings in the 1950s and 1960s, with sculpture, murals, tiles, and sometimes indeed tile murals, is at last getting the attention it deserves. People are still unearthing little known examples and I’m pleased to share this one, which must be well known in Lutterworth but unfamiliar to people elsewhere.* A lot of 1960s architecture was dull, and many people find concrete buildings oppressive and ugly. I don’t,§ but I get even more out of such buildings when they bear this kind of decoration.

Fourth, it’s illustration, and as my working life has revolved around illustrated books I’m always interested in the ways artists represent things, even such humble things as a pestle and mortar. I like the way the artist (I’ve no idea who it was, or which company produced the tiles†) has managed to convey the modelling of these objects with just a few strokes of yellow, green and grey, with a swelling of the line here and a diminution there giving some liveliness to the drawing. And although I’m fond of bright colours, I can find something to admire in the restricted palette too, perhaps because it reminds me of the sort of restrictions we faced in the early years of my publishing career, when we often had to get the best out of two-colour printing if the full four colours were too costly.

I know that 1960s architecture, and illustrative panels like this, are not to everyone’s taste. Sometimes when I show this sort of thing to audiences of talks or participants on courses, they groan (not always audibly, but one can sense the response!), as if longing for a decent bit of Georgian elegance. I hope I’ve explained some of the reasons why such things appeal to me.

- - - - -

* It doesn’t seem to be in Lynn F Pearson’s admirable Tile Gazetteer, for example. This book is, however, my tile Bible.

§ And yes, I have lived in one. I also went to school in a Brutalist building, and while I don’t subscribe to the ‘schooldays are the happiest days of your life’ notion, the building was certainly one of the things I did like about school.

† The name of the building’s architect, however, is inscribed on the tiles, making me wonder if he designed the tile decoration too. He was Derrick A Knightley, a local man with what sounds like a substantial practice. The date 1961 is also one the tiles.

No comments: