London Underground Tiles

Paolozzi’s Underground Genius

The London Underground’s Tottenham Court Road is home to 950sq metres of tantalising tile art. Originally completed in 1986 by Scottish artist and Pop Art pioneer Eduardo Paolozzi, the vibrantly colourful mosaics spread across the Northern and Cental line platforms, offering an abstracted view of urban life.

Photo credit: Thierry Bal
Photo credit: Thomas Biggs

Curious curves and passages form references to the cogs and gears of machinery, whilst various facets of the local area are represented in musical instruments, figures, animals, and bugs. The artworks extend along the platform, with a 360° technicolour Rotunda welcoming and bidding farewell to passengers.

As renovations and extensions on the underground took place in 2017, Paolozzi’s artworks were shuffled and restored, with one panel at the former Oxford Street entrance removed in one piece and lowered to live at platform level.

For five of the panels on the Central Line, mosaic master Gary Drostle was hired to recreate what had been lost during the reshuffle. Little to no photographic evidence existed of the former works, and few of the original pieces had been saved for reference. Each missing section was instead carefully traced, with some photographs from 2007 acting as a guide, and each missing tessera was painstakingly chosen, cut, and arranged to ensure the original beauty and character remained.

Controversially, some sections of the arches that could not be rehomed within the station were instead moved to the Edinburgh College of Art (where Paolozzi studied in the 40s, and later became a visiting professor). Unable to dismantle them whole or undamaged, partial fragments were transported which have since been examined to inform placement. Only 33% of the arches remain and the college has yet to decide whether they will recreate them, or find an innovative way to honour the art.

Read more about the restoration here.

A new post by Hanna Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, June 2022.

2 thoughts on “Paolozzi’s Underground Genius

  1. We were very proud to work oaths project re-creating the beautiful hand cut Venetian Smalti panels on the Central Line platforms and sections of the Rotunda.
    You can read about our part in the restoration work here
    – Gary at Drostle Public Arts

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