How Chromolocomotion was made in Croydon, and what public art might do for our borough

By - Wednesday 2nd July, 2014

Just don’t mention Tetris! Olivia Garner meets the creator of the artwork making a big impact at St Pancras International station, and discovers how it came to be manufactured very close to home

Chromolocomotion: 20m across and weighing 3 tons, hangs at St Pancras International Station London.
Photo by Terrace Wires, used with permission.

Every morning since April 2014, commuters at St Pancras International station on Euston Road in Central London have been immersed in a beautiful spectrum of coloured light. It’s all thanks to Scottish artist David Bachelor, whose Chromolocomotion is a twenty metres by ten metres creation that to some commentators resembles the vintage video game, Tetris. It’s been installed until September 2014 and excitingly, there’s a local connection: this interesting work was all assembled at a warehouse in Croydon.

I spoke to Mr Bachelor to discuss his eye-catching piece and seek his opinions on how Croydon’s predominantly grey architecture could be given a touch of the Chromolocomotion.

It’s a very interesting and unusual art work – what gave you the inspiration?

Well – not Tetris! I didn’t really know Tetris. I was only vaguely aware of it – never played a computer game in my life. It was only once I’d done the work that the Tetris connection was made but, yep, that’s fine! What I was really looking at was the architecture of the station and the steel work and the various forms and shapes that it makes. I wanted to make something that would both respond to those shapes but also depart from them. It’s a puzzle; it does look like a Tetris puzzle that’s there to be figured out.

It definitely brings a lot of colour to the station! In the 1970s St Pancras was considered an ugly gothic monstrosity – it was scheduled for demolition and was saved by a campaign by the poet John Betjeman. Now however it is thought very beautiful and it is obvious that fashions change! Would you like to comment as an artist on Croydon’s infamous concrete architecture?

Well actually, I’m generally a fan of concrete architecture so I’m probably the wrong person to ask about that! I also think that St Pancras is a truly great building and it’s a huge relief that it was saved because it would have been shocking to lose it. Industrial architecture of the 19th century is to me the best architecture there is. It’s much better than the awful Houses of Parliament and Big Ben stuff. The great canopy of the train shed is just superb.

So do you think a place like Croydon would benefit from more art in the public space? Is it important?

I think good public art is important – bad public art is a disaster! If the right kind of thinking is put in and the right kind of people are doing it, then sure, it’s a good thing. However, there’s at least as much bad public art as good public art out there, I would say.

How did you come to be commissioned to produce the piece for St Pancras?

David Bachelor with Chromolocomotion.
Photo by Terrace Wires, used with permission.

When you’ve been around the block a few times you tend to get invitations from organisations, theatres, charities, for whatever reason, and they’re looking for a work of art, temporarily or permanently. I know that I was one of half a dozen people who were asked by St Pancras to come up with something because I’ve done this kind of thing in the past. I spent a lot of time walking around the station and taking photographs, looking at the architecture and trying to come up with something that I thought would work in that space. However you never know if anyone else is going to agree with you! The original drawings that I submitted were very unlike what I actually now made. The basic idea to reflect the architecture and create a kind of abstract stained glass window – that idea was there from the start.

What do you think Chromolocomotion adds to St Pancras?

It certainly temporarily adds a different type of colour and that creation of a transparent coloured glass – actually in this case polycarbonate – was always in the original idea. It was definitely an allusion to a cathedral type space.

How did the manufacturing process in Croydon come about?

It’s a company I’ve worked with on a number of projects before, including a public work in South Korea. For very big works of this kind (that thing’s twenty metres across and it weighs over three tons!) I can’t make that in the studio; it requires engineers and a lot of health and safety staff. The company happened to relocate to Croydon in the last couple of years.

So what’s next for you now? Has public recognition from Chromolocomotion brought you any new opportunities?

These things happen slowly – it’s only been up there a couple of months. I’ve had a lot of conversations and a lot of people I know have seen it and they’re sending me texts and emails. In terms of specific things that have come out of it I wouldn’t expect anything to happen immediately but I’ve obviously got other projects that I’ve been working on. These things take two or three years to come together. I’m currently working on a project for the refurbishment of the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith so that’s the next one on the agenda. I’ve also got one of the rooms at the Royal Academy summer show.

But above all, St Pancras is one of the great buildings in London. It’s been a great privilege to work with it.

Olivia Garner

Olivia Garner

I am a History graduate who has just moved back to Croydon from Bristol. I joined the Citizen for a chance to write about events within my home town whilst continuing my love for writing post-university. I am also currently working on a historical novel based upon my dissertation research.

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  • Matthew Charles Davis

    Great article. I wonder if the Citizen could get in touch with the Arts Council to commission some public art for Croydon, perhaps run a competition?