“Do you know the blue sculpture of The Workers down Park Parade?” I ask Gabriel Parfitt who runs the Harlesden Gallery (harlesdengallery.com), which is a group of 40 artists rather than a physical local location. “I certainly do,” he replies via email. It turns out as we stand beside this 1995 sculpture by Kevin Harrison – funnily enough, I sort of know him, his agent is Nicholas Treadwell, a man who is so fond of pink, he has created a Pink Prison which is in fact an art gallery in an Austrian town called Aigen where lots more of these cartoony Harrison sculptures reside – that neither of us are impressed.
“Looks very Eastern Bloc,” I say.
“Actually, it reminds me of something out of a Peter Gabriel video,” says Gabriel, “but I can see that it was made in the days of Harlesden City Challenge and that it might have been saying that we are building a new beginning.”
It seems plonked, irrelevant and out of time. Harlesden needs some good art. What on earth do a bunch of huge painted steel and aluminium workers with a flag have to do with Harlesden? I think I will have to ask Kevin Harrison.*
So what is the central philosophy of the Harlesden Gallery group of artists? “Well, they all have to be willing to put energy into projects in Harlesden,” says Gabriel, “like last year and I expect this June too, we made the posters for the Love Harlesden day. There’s a community ideal behind it, as well as our exhibitions. Recently, we had a group exhibition at the Tricycle, and we sold one piece and another artist was commissioned from it.”
Originally a sculptor using metal, Gabriel now paints. As we look at the Plaza car park, he points out that there used to be a public sculpture in the corner by Tescos. “But it was made of bronze and someone stole it last year,” he says. “Yeah and they probably only got forty quid for it,” he adds. I’m shocked. I hadn’t realised that it had gone.
A relatively new Harlesden resident – he and his wife, Amanda have lived here for four years – he works as a technician at Latimer School, Gabriel had given up sculpting when they came to live in London. No space. But he took up painting in the studio at his workplace and then Lorenzo Belenguer at the Willesden Gallery had helped him exhibit. “His gallery is so well organised and has a good reputation,” says Gabriel. “Lorenzo is the opposite of me, he’s a minimalist sculptor so he might produce a white slab of plaster with a red rusty screw on it. He’s always on a quest to find the perfect white cement, and recently he made a new discovery.”
We march at a pace up Manor Park Road. I want to show Gabriel the sculpture that sits on the corner of Hillside and Brentfield Rd just down from the Stonebridge Hub. I’d felt the same way about it as The Workers’ last time I was here. A City Challenge waste of time. Ignored by passers by and inhabitants of the area. Called Sun Disc designed by Guy Paterson and Geraldine Konya, it is a steel circle that has been cut out to reveal all sorts of joyous shapes, people, animals etc. All done in 1994 when there was money to burn. However, this time Gabriel points out the newspaper articles and images – all pertaining to Harlesden – that have been etched on to the pavement around the disc. They are brilliant, textured headlines like Our Challenge To Remake Harlesden and great photographs. “Photo shop heaven,” declares Gabriel as he takes photos to add to his website. We agree that this sculpture could have been vastly improved if the artists had collaborated rather than worked separately, (as it appears they did) if the newspaper cuttings could have been etched on to the disc itself perhaps?**
At this point, I have to include that Gabriel is the Cultural Attache (well there is another name but I’m calling him this) for Harlesden Town Team. He knows Leeroy! “He calls me Mr G,” he laughs, “but for all his extrovert exterior, Leeroy can be very sensitive. He’s not one dimensional although admittedly he is a character.”
We walk down Knatchbull Rd – all the Stonebridge tower blocks have gone now – it all looks very modern and low rise. Thank goodness they got the money for all of this development before the demise of the New Labour. I think local, very successful rapper, K Koke (who was put in prison for having something to do with the shooting of a 27 year old man at Harlesden station but was later released and cleared) lives down here and I’d love to walk with him.
Round the corner, on the corner of Acton Lane is another sculpture,*** this time unnamed. The plaque has disappeared although we find the bare earth where it probably was. It’s a two part mosaic apparently celebrating the vibrancy of Harlesden with musicians and bright colours. It’s ok, although it has barely survived. “It looks knackered,” says Gabriel, “no-one is doing anything about the upkeep of these sculptures.” Again it looks old-fashioned now and uncared for, there’s a broken toilet nearby.
Finally, we visit the most recent piece of public art called Girls and Boys in Harlesden down Harley Road. A long black and white mural on the wall adjoining Willesden Junction Station. Created in 2008, it contains images of Harlesden Primary School children who are of course diverse. And so artist – Mat Hand now based in Berlin
– wanted to make a mural that had social value. The words Bad and Good alternate next to the images and the idea is that we, the viewers, challenge ourselves around our perceptions of young people and how they look. It’s stark and startling, and at least it definitely does have something to do with Harlesden. “It’s a bit cliched now,” says Gabriel and he’s right.
What does he dream of for Harlesden Gallery? “Eventually, it would be great to have an exhibition space in Harlesden and there is going to be some more money available for public art as part of the Harlesden Town Team vision so we have to consider what will work the best for Harlesden and be inspiring and interactive at the same time.”
Watch this space.
*I do ask Kevin Harrison and he explains the joke. “These are people struggling together to put up a yellow and green spotty, joke corporate flag. The humour is that it’s like a soviet realist sculpture but in this one the workers are struggling to put to up a funny thing.” And he also explains that he did do some school visits so that it wouldn’t seem that it had just ‘landed’. Adding it probably needs some ‘TLC now’.
** I manage to find Guy Paterson too who says it was meant to last ten years so is doing well if it has survived, he also mentions a painted piece by Julia Bird on a roundabout in Park Royal that he doubts is still there. “My imagery was taken from the local library archives and arranged in such a way that it’s reminiscent of a scrapbook. Geraldine’s part is more symbolic and the idea was that shapes from her disc would interact with the images etched on the pavement. As the sun moved constantly so the sculpture would change.” Ah ha, so they did collaborate more than we had imagined and there was a ‘sun disc’ at the heart of it. Sadly, it doesn’t quite translate in the actuality.
*** Guy Paterson mentions that this sculpture was probably by someone called Arik.