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Public Art in Newport 


Overview: Public Art and regeneration



"Boldly, Newport Council has filled the town with a riot of public art. Public Art Trails capture the unique ambience of beautiful mosaics, a collapsing clock, a steel wave and a clutch of statues. | Many are very recent and are proof of the courage of the local politicians in satisfying and challenging public taste. The works provoke, delight, infuriate and inspire." | Paul Flynn, MP 

"Public art is about regeneration and reviving civic pride (...). At its best it can raise an area's profile and instil new confidence and pride. But it is not simply about statues on plinths - public art in its broadest sense is also about celebrating a town's identity, its rich civic tapestry". | Sebastien Boyesen | Lancashire Evening Telegraph, June 1996 

"Newport, a city with a long tradition of commissioning public art, has, alongside Swansea, led the way in Wales in recognising the importance of commissioning art in public places and how it can signal change and economic regeneration. This programme has been intensified in the last few years and now with a major plan for the re-development of large tracks of land along the banks of the Usk running through the City Centre there are new proposals by artists being incorporated into the architecture and landform" | Cywaith Cymru Artworks Wales 2004 


Newport has been celebrated for its public art in recent decades. The city exhibits a surprising boldness in public art commissions, with challenging modern works and themes of political radicalism, beyond the anticipated Victorian conformity. 

Far from the dreary dramatis personnae of Victorian dignitaries and captains of industry that one might expect from a British industrial city, the city of Newport stands out for its challenging series of modern public sculpture commissions of recent decades. Newport's recent public art engages a popular sense of history, celebrating the city and port's proud industrial and maritime heritage and the vital democratic legacy of Chartism. The catalyst of economic regeneration has provided the immediate context of this public art patronage, to promote Newport as both a city with a strong historical identity and as a vibrant centre for future investment and growth. Newport's public sculptural landmarks belong to the wider social drama of the city's post-industrial economic regeneration. 


Landmark


Newport has been celebrated for its public art in recent years. Newport's public art is showcased on the city council and various tourist websites, and this provides an invitation to walk the city's sculpture trail. Public art provides a striking series of landmarks for Newport's cityscape, for example:




the colossal Steel Wave sculpture, in the northern part of the city centre near the Old Town Bridge, dominates the east bank of the Usk. Visible from the train as it crosses the river Usk, The Wave is emblematic of the city's proud heritage of steel and seafaring.

























































































the ambitious Chartist Memorial Sculpture group in Westgate Square, mid-way in the city centre, was commissioned by Newport council to commemorate the 150th Anniversay of the 1839 Chartist Rising in Newport. 







the Merchant Seaman's Memorial, to the south of the city centre, commemorates the proud history of maritime trade and the contribution of merchant seamen to both World Wars.




Social drama




Public sculpture bespeaks, unwittingly perhaps, the drama of social power and the sense of history and identity of a place. In Newport the accent is on a popular sense of history, celebrating the city and port's proud industrial and maritime heritage and the vital democratic legacy of Chartism. 

Public sculpture is a prominent cultural form that rallies a range of responses: from that sheer indifference whereby the noble is relegated to the status of a traffic island: to the usual controversies of "how much public money did that cost" and "this modern art isn't relevant": or else the articulation of local pride through the memorialization of a popular leader. Far from the dreary dramatis personnae of Victorian dignitaries and captains of industry that one might expect from a British industrial city, the city of Newport stands out for its challenging series of modern public sculpture commissions of recent decades.  




Regeneration

Newport's impressive spate of public art commissions in the early- to mid- 1990s, conceived as part of the town's urban redevelopment strategy, provides an exemplary UK case study for the public patronage of sculpture.

Public art in the UK in recent years has been as much about looking forward as looking back, in its role as a catalyst for city regeneration. For example we can view photos in Flickr for Middlesbrough's MIMA (Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art) and the Claus Oldenberg sculpture [add]. Likewise the Lowry [add]

It remains to be seen whether the City of Newport will engage a second phase of public art patronage in the coming years as it proceeds with its city centre and waterside regeneration plans.
 





Notes on art works 



The following notes explore the selected works of public art in Newport city centre in terms of their public patronage; their interest as actors within the performative space of the city; and hence the narrative of place, the sense of historical pride and future hope, that the city is telling of itself.
  • View a map of the works of public art here




[1] 1850 | Statue of Sir Charles Morgan | J.Evan Thomas


Sir Charles Morgan: This monumental seated figure commemorates Newport's leading landowner and industrialist of the Victorian period, and is nowadays located appropriately at the commercial hub of the city centre.


View: photo set | slideshow






Sir Charles Morgan was an exemplary landowner-industrialist of his era, whose enterprises included the Newport Docks (1842) and the Newport Cattle Market (1844). Like his counterpart the Second Marquess of Bute in Cardiff, his capital and enterprise laid the foundation of the town's Victorian industrial economy.


Sir Charles Morgan was the promoter of the Tredegar Cattle Show, a leading British provincial agricultural show which promoted the new scientific approach to agriculture. Newport artist James Flewitt Mullock enjoyed a spate of patronage to paint prize winners of the Tredegar Show. The Newport Cattle Market was built to supplement the trade of the new Newport Dock. The Newport Cattle Market was the model for the New York (United States) Cattle Market.


Erected through public subscription in 1850 - following Sir Charles's death in 1846 - there was no doubt a political reverberation to this public memorial, as an assertion of power and authority in the wake of the 1839 Chartist Rising in Newport. The political pamphleteering of Chartist leader John Frost had railed against the feudal yoke of the Tredegar Estate. 


The Statue of Sir Charles Morgan, re-located to Bridge Street in recent years, thus stands nowadays just around the corner from the  Westgate Hotel and Westgate Square,the city's main thoroughfare which is dominated by the Chartist Memorial Sculpture, commissioned by Newport Borough Council with assistance from the Welsh Arts Council to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Newport Chartist Rising in 1839.


One may contrast the elevated figure of Sir Charles, atop a monumental pedestal, with the nearby Chartist Memorial sculpture group which occupies street level and seemingly blends in with passers-by, who even use it as a popular gathering point on sunny days.


[2] 1975 | Old Green Mural | Kenneth Budd


The Old Green Mural, located on the Kingsway pedestrian underpass, depicts the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company and the key role played by the canal and railway in Newport's rapid growth and prosperity in the mid-nineteenth century.


View: photo set | slideshow




This mural, a concrete and mosaic construction, occupies the dubious location of a pedestrian underpass. Its an impressive piece that uses the available space, and has weathered surprisingly well. No one in their right mind would express fondness for a pedestrian underpass, but this piece rises above the mundane and fires the imagination. 


The mosaic commemorates the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company, which occupied this site as one of the main arteries of trade for the burgeoning port of Newport  during the iron era. Now a busy traffic junction, it is hard to imagine just how busy this wharfside location in Newport actually was: as we see in the photograph of the canal and Moderator Wharf before being filled up by the corporation in the 1930s. For here, huddled right next to the town centre, was a labyrinth of canal, railway and wharfs. Thus has been the fate of canals in many a British city - think of Swansea and Cardiff, closer to home - to make way for succeeding road transportation systems. Thus Kenneth Budd's Old Green Mural, surrounded by city centre traffic at all hours of the day, stands as a silent reminder of the now invisible history of the age of the canal and the railway. 


But perhaps the significance of this piece lies well beyond its keen eye for historical detail, for Kenneth Budd's 1975 Old Green Mural was followed by a second ambitious mural commission for the artist, the Chartist Memorial Mural, so that both mural pieces set a credible precedence for public art in the town in succeeding years. Likewise the Chartist Mural occupied the dubious location of a pedestrian underpass, and provided a vivid landmark to the town's proud industrial history and heroic contribution to modern democracy.



[3] 1978 | Chartist Memorial Mural | Kenneth Budd



The Newport Chartist Mural, located in a pedestrian tunnel in John Frost Square in 1978, commemorates the Newport Chartist Rising of 1839. 


View: photo set | slideshow | video 1 | video 2








The Newport Chartist Rising of 1839 has forged the democratic identity of modern Newport. Newport's first prominent cultural landmark to the 1839 Newport Chartist Rising was erected in a pedestrian tunnel in John Frost Square in 1978, in the shadow of the new tower-block The Chartist Tower. Artist Kenneth Budd's monumental mosaic mural is 120 foot long and 12 foot high, and contains 200,000 separate pieces of mosaic tile. / Read more: A note on the Newport Chartist Mural






[4] 1981 | Archform | Harvey Hood



Archform is located outside Newport Railway Station, a modernist exercise in Constructivist sculpture that is emblematic of the engineering achievement of the Victorian Railway Age.  


View: photo set | slideshow





Harvey Hood, an artist based at Newport Art College, was commissioned by British Rail in collaboration with the Welsh Arts Council to produce this tall standing piece to be located outside Newport Railway Station. Appropriate to its location, the sculptural form explores "the engineering processes and structures fundamental to the building of Britain's railway system". The sculptor attempted "to find metal shapes and forms that were related to the environment, and to fit in with the local architecture - the station roof, nearby bridges and other structures can be related to the piece". 


This conception of a site specific piece of sculpture has a historical integrity, given Newport's connection with the Great Western Railway and preeminent Victorian engineer Brunel (- who implemented an innovative iron bridge design at Newport when the original wooden structure over the Usk caught fire). However, this exercise in modernist sculptural form proved too much for popular taste in the town and gave rise to no small public controversy. Kenneth Budd's earlier decorative mural work to enliven pedestrian walkways of 1975 and 1978 had been designed precisely to add colour and visual interest to an otherwise nondescript concrete environment. The non-representational character and challenging engagement of modern sculpture had less popular appeal by contrast, so that public controversy remained an expected response.   


In retrospect however we may say that Harvey Hood's Archform blazed a trail of sorts for modern sculpture's presence on the streets of Newport. A decade later, Peter Fink's modernist Steel Wave (1991) was commissioned by the town council on a truly monumental scale, the largest commissioned piece of sculpture in Britain at the time. Also in 1991, Christopher Kelly's ambitious sculpture group the Newport Chartist Memorial was commissioned through an open competition by Newport Borough Council with assistance from the Welsh Arts Council to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Newport Chartist Uprising in 1839. With more public art commissions to follow, and the engagement of Sebastian Boyesen as "Town Sculptor", the Newport townscape became populated by a challenging series of modern sculptures that  provoked new voices of controversy and pride as Newport won something of a reputation for itself in the wider art world.    


[5] 1990 | Stand and Stare | Paul Bothwell Kincaid



Stand and Stare, located in Commercial Street, Newport (near the junction with Hill Street), commemorates Newport's "Supertramp" poet, W.H.Davies, author of the immortal line "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare" from the poem Leisure.


View: photo set | slideshow








Commissioned by Newport Borough Council with assistance from the Welsh Arts Council and a Welsh Development Agency Town Improvement Grant, it was unveiled on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the poet's death in 1940, by Councillor Harry G. Jones, Mayor of Newport, in December 1990.


[6] 1991 | Steel Wave | Peter Fink


 

The Steel Wave dominates the west bank of the river Usk just below the town bridge, and is probably Newport's most well known - and controversial - cultural landmark apart from the Transporter Bridge (plus the recent addition of the Newport City Footbridge). 


View: photo set | slideshow




A monumental steel construction that is 40 feet high, the largest piece of public art in Britain at the time, the sculpture represents the steel industry and maritime trade that have played a key role in the development of modern Newport. This landmark sculptural project was commissioned by Newport Council in the early 1990s to spearhead regeneration of the west bank of the river Usk. 


[7] 1991 | Chartist Memorial Sculpture: Union, Prudence, Energy | Christopher Kelly

The Chartist Memorial Sculpture is located outside the Westgate Hotel in Westgate Square at the junction with Stow Hill, the site of the Newport Chartist Uprising of 1839, and was commissioned by Newport Borough Council with assistance from the Welsh Arts Council to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the uprising in 1839. 



View: photo set | slideshow






This ambitious allegorical sculpture is described as follows:


"The sculpture illustrates the desire for political change, and how the desire motivated the Chartist movement. The groups take their title from the motto of the Chartist convention 'Union, Prudence, Energy'. 


  • Union (The Ideal City) - the figures carry a model of Newport surrounded by dancing children, the group refers to the physical appearance of Newport. "The children dance through the space underneath the model, which is a reminder of the many tunnels and fly-overs that weave their way in, around, under and through the land on which Newport is built".
 
  • Prudence (Still Life) - These two figures are representative of the arts, commerce and industry which have played an important part in the fortunes of Newport both in the past and present. 

  • Energy (Apotheosis) - Consists of three recumbent figures arranged in strata like the soil, they lie seemingly crushed but they form the foundation from which the spirit of Chartism, represented by the flying figures, sprang".



[8] 1991 | Merchant Seaman's War Memorial: World War I, Navigator | Sebastien Boyesen


View: photo set | slideshow





[9] 1992 | Newport Clock: In the Nick of Time | Andy Plant


View: photo set | slideshow





[10] 1994 | This Little Piggy | Sebastien Boyesen



View: photo set | slideshow




[11] 1996 | The Bell Carrier: The Vision of Saint Gwynllyw | Sebastien Boyesen



View: photo set | slideshow





[12] 1960 | Civic Centre Murals | Hans Feibusch (1960-64)



View: photo set | slideshow






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