Lockdown Treasures: The City Centre (Part 2)

Ray + Julie

Lockdown Treasures: The City Centre (Part 2)

Words & Images, Bryony Large

On the verge of completing our third month in a nationwide lockdown, it is safe to say that the country is eagerly anticipating that long-awaited announcement that the next set of restrictions can be eased. However, unfortunately for us art lovers, we have a little while longer until we can burst through the doors of our favourite Merseyside museums and galleries again. 

In the meantime, the lucky locals of Liverpool can relinquish in the endless amount of public art that dazzle the city. Daily walks and bike rides might be getting slightly tiresome for the UK population, but with an array of inspiring sculpture, spectacular displays and beautiful street art, a stroll in Liverpool never fails to leave you in a state of awe. I’ve preached it once and I’ll preach it again: our engagement with the arts does not have to come to an abrupt halt during this lockdown and that living in Liverpool grants us the perfect opportunity to explore some incredible outdoor artworks!

In the first part of this series, I created a trail along the city’s scenic waterfront, rewarding our eyes with sculpture, contemporary artwork and even an outdoor photography exhibition! Moving away from the water, my second trail of Liverpool Lockdown Treasures is located directly in the city centre; the beating heart of arts and culture in Merseyside! From the Fabric District to Ropewalks and Chinatown, the creative sightings are unlimited. How fortunate are we? So put on your walking shoes, get out your bike or a pair of rollerskates, and embark on your daily form of exercise, but with a little artistic twist. 

Stop 1: Ray + Julie by Alan Dunn & Brigitte Jurack

Located in an empty plot of land on London Road between a pub and a furniture store, the first stop of this trail is called Ray + Julie, which simply incorporates two rusty and quite frankly, weather-beaten iron chairs facing each other. The sculpture is mysterious, it’s confusing, but most importantly, it’s incredibly intriguing. So intriguing, that it was placed in The Guardian’s top 10 unexpected and hidden sculptures in Britain. The fact that the chairs were only supposed to last 6 months from 1995 onwards, but are still standing 26 years later, demonstrates their significance as a cultural artwork in the city.  

The artists of this installation and married couple, Alan Dunn and Brigitte Jurack, were commissioned by the Furniture Resource Centre to fill the lonely space and were actually inspired by a piece of graffiti painted on one of the nearby walls. Scrawled into the brick, the lettering of ‘Ray + Julie’ in prominent white paint left the artists with one wondering question: who is Ray and Julie? While that question has never been answered, it adds a somewhat romantic element to the piece, causing us to imagine the two potential lovers sitting on the chairs engaged in joyous conversation. The limitless, imaginative possibilities of these two figures has inspired songs, theatre plays and even films! If that doesn’t showcase the power of the arts, I don’t know what will! 

More information on this installation and the artists can be found at: https://alandunn67.co.uk/theballadofrayandjulie.html 

Stop 2: Reconciliation by Stephen Broadbent

The next stop in this trail will lead you to a 12ft iron statue by British sculptor Stephen Broadbent on Concert Street, which you will most definitely struggle to miss. Towering high amongst one of the busiest areas in the city, you are met with the most calming and soothing scene as you cast your eyes on two figures embracing one another, unified into a single form. Revealed to the public in 1990, this sculpture is one of three identical statues as part of the original Reconciliation Project. The other two are located in Glasgow and Belfast, with the triangle acting as a powerful symbol for how sectarianism in the three cities can be conquered with hope and unification. 

There are three more of these statues, differing only by an addition of bronze low-relief designs, standing again, in Liverpool as well as in Cotonou, Benin and Richmond, Virginia. They demonstrate three points in the slave trade triangle and how these areas must continue to build bridges to overcome racial disadvantages and economic separation in schools and communities. Specialising in public art, Broadbent is known for his meaningful works and the ways in which he tries to reflect the stories of the areas he creates in. 

The sculptures are faceless and very simple in their appearance, transcending boundaries of gender, skin colour, religion, political preferences and more, to represent that as human beings, we are one and should be unified in that fact. The warming and soothing ambiance in the presence of this remarkable sculpture is difficult to ignore, so I encourage you to embrace it!

The artist of this work can be found at https://broadbent.studio/stephenbroadbent

Stop 3: Fleet Street mural by Danny O’Connor

About 50 metres from Broadbent’s Reconciliation statue is our third stop of the trail, located on the other side of Concert Square on Fleet Street. Since moving to the city, this hyper-stylized, abstract and futuristic portrait by the iconic artist Danny O’Connor has been my favourite mural of Liverpool. Everything about the painting is so eccentric and extraordinary, from the striking features of the female portrait emerging from a fog of beautiful colour to the sharp, diagonal lasers cutting through the cloud-like layers. O’Connor somehow combines the most opposing colours, such as those icy blues and that blinding orange, and makes you believe that the entire rainbow system of colour should be re-arranged. 

As a graduate from Liverpool John Moores Art School, O’Connor’s Graphic Arts degree screams out from within all of his work. His versatility in all areas of his practice is inspiring, incorporating acrylics, spray paint, ink, paint markers and household gloss and emulsions in each of his paintings, while using an array of application methods of either brushes, cardboard or his fingers to achieve the effect he wants. His mixed-media work is influenced by a variety of styles and never fails to be satisfying to the eyes so it’s a good job more of O’Connor’s art is littered across the city!

Danny O’Connor can be found on his website https://docart.bigcartel.com/ or on Instagram and Twitter at @artbydoc

Stop 4: Penelope by Jorge Pardo

Wolstenholme Square is the next name to type in on your Google Maps as you make your way to the fourth stop of the trail: a surreal, fantastical and site-specific sculpture by the accomplished Los Angeles artist Jorge Pardo. Commissioned by the Liverpool Rope Walks Partnership and initiated by Tate Liverpool as part of the Liverpool Biennial 2002, Penelope is Pardo’s largest permanent piece of outdoor sculpture to date. It took four weeks to construct with the colourful, twisting steel stalks made in Germany and Holland, demonstrating the installation’s significance as an international centrepiece for Liverpool. 

It’s historical significance is noteworthy too; Ropewalks was the area where the long ropes of ships were laid out in the street to be plaited for several past centuries. The actual name of the sculpture refers to Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey, in which Ulysses’ wife, Penelope, faithfully awaited her husband’s return from the Trojan War. Despite having numerous suiters, she rejected them by saying she had to finish weaving a robe, unravelling her day’s work each night. As one can gather, this 10-metre high sculpture encapsulates perfectly some historical themes of the Ropewalks’ location of weaving, plaiting, winding and twisting.

More information on this very talented contemporary artist can be found here https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/jorge-pardo-7077 or @jorgepardosculpture on Instagram.

Stop 5: Roman Standard by Tracey Emin

The final stop of this trail requires climbing a bit of a hill, but what you’ll find at the top makes all the huffing and puffing worth it! Not only do you have a sculpture by the renowned contemporary artist Tracey Emin, but St. Helen’s Churchyard also offers you beautiful views of the Oratory and the Anglican Cathedral. Regarding size, Emin’s Roman Standard is incredibly out of place amongst these giant, towering buildings, but I believe that this is why it is so fascinating. Stood on a 13-ft tall pole located just outside the Oratory, is a little bronze bird, about the size of a sparrow. Let’s just say it isn’t exactly easy to spot on your first time visiting, or your second…or your third.

Emin was commissioned by the BBC to take part in her first public art project as part of its contribution to the art05 festival and Liverpool’s year as the European Capital of Culture in 2008. It also pays tribute to Liverpool’s famous symbol of the Liver bird which we all know and love. 

The name of this piece refers to an ancient Roman tradition where a pennant, flag, or banner is suspended or attached to a pole to be carried into battle. It is quite ironic to name such a miniature, harmless and quiet symbol, such as a bird, with notable military connotations. Emin has stated that this is because she always finds that public sculptures are quite “oppressive and dark”, so wanted to create something that represented “hope, faith and spirituality” and that the smallest of beings can sometimes have the most power!

More of Tracey Emin’s work can be found through her Instagram @traceyeminstudio

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring some public art in the city centre of Liverpool and I hope that through this trail, you do too. While we patiently wait to be let through the doors of Tate Liverpool, the Bluecoat or the Lady Lever Art Gallery, it is a great chance to explore the city and expand your knowledge on the endless amounts of arts and culture it has to offer, without having to enter a single building! If you fancy another fulfilling artventure, I highly recommend taking a look at my very first Liverpool Lockdown Treasure trail based at the waterfront for more spectacular outdoor works!