Archive for September, 2007




Tatto-ed giant swims beside the Thames

A giant tattoo-ed athlete, measuring 46-feet long and 10-feet high, is swimming through the grassy-verge next to the Thames at Tower Bridge this week. Somewhat surprisingly, the massive sculpture is the work of David Beckham and Kate Moss’s tattooist Louis Molloy.


Molloy, who was responsible for the ‘guardian angel’ tattoo on Beckham’s back, is starring in a new TV show that aims to highlight how tattoos are no longer confined to criminal and sailor circles but are now very much a mainstream art format.

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The Erith fish

Giant Fish entwine on a Kentish roundabout 

Motorists in Erith recently have been startled to find a set of giant mosaic fish entwined on a roundabout in Bronze Age Way. (So startled in fact that one motorist is reported to have run into it). They were even passed by the peleton of the Tour de France on their way when Stage 1 of the race took place in south east England this year

The fish, formally known as the De Luici Pike,  are one of a number of public works of art recently installed in Erith.  The ‘Erith Fish’ at it is locally known, was runner up in the Rouse Kent Public Art Award 2007, which is given each year by Kings Hill developer Liberty Property Trust UK Ltd, Kent County Council and Arts Council England, South East. Canterbury. The sculptor Gary Drostle and the council shared the £10,000 award.    

Gary Drostle told the press he was delighted his work had been honoured. He went on: “I was amazed to do so well as the competition was very stiff. The sculpture is an unusual piece of work and it is great to be recognised in this way.”

According to a Bexley Council press release the sculpture aims at combining a sense of Erith’s past through the use of the old town coat of arms (three fish) with a hopeful view of the future – with the realisation of the Thames’s key role in Erith’s future.

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Arthur Shapiro’s botantical labyrinth in his LA garden

 After LA antiques dealer Richard Shapiro created a Palladian folly in his Holmby Hills garden in Los Angeles, (see previous blog post “Palladio in Hollywood”), he decided to enhance its setting with a maze.

Thumbing through a magazine, shortly after completing the Palladian pavilion, he came across a photograph of the Chateau Marqueyssac in the Dordogne region of France, that featured an elaborate garden labyrinth made from topiary boxwood.

In a garden already filled with palms, Italian cypress and bamboo and fragrant with lavender, chosen for the color of the foliage rather than the sweetness of the flower, Shapiro embarked upon a botanical folly.

“I spent five days deciding where to plant 480 mature boxwoods and spent several hours a day for the next month trimming them,” he says. “This is not a complaint; I’m obsessed with doing it.”

The result was well worth it. Adjacent to a stone patio decked with gray spray-painted wicker chairs from Pier 1 Imports, Shapiro’s boxwood maze is a series of rounded undulating forms traversed by curlicue gravel walkways — an Alice in Wonderland garden as photographed by Tim Burton.

Shapiro considers the $25,000 he spent “a great bargain. It’s such a singular thing,” he says. “It’s of the same ilk as the other folly.”

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Richard Shapiro’s Palladian folly in the Hollywood Hills

Eccentricity and excess mark a centuries-old tradition.


 Richard Shapiro’s folly began, as many great things do, with the smallest of ambitions. Though the modern art collector and antiques dealer already had seven fireplaces in his 1920s Holmby Hills villa, he wanted an outdoor hearth. A place, he recalls, where, “I could sit in front of a roaring fire during a rainstorm or on a cold winter night.”

Shapiro’s design for an alfresco fireplace soon soared into architecture on helium, a Greco-Roman portico based on the precise mathematical principles of 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. “I thought it might be hokey,” the 63-year-old aesthete admits, “but then I accepted that what I was really doing was a folly.”

At first he considered housing his outdoor fireplace in a modern structure, “four posts and a cover that would stand in juxtaposition to the Mediterranean architecture of the house,” he says. It would echo the way he placed minimalist sculptures and 20th century artworks amid the classical columns and ornate moldings inside his home.

It was a leap of the imagination to Neoclassicism. Having toured much of northern Italy, hopping from picturesque villas to village flea markets while buying antiques for his gallery on Melrose Avenue, Shapiro had become “smitten by history,” he says. “I want to touch the ages.”

Shapiro determined that he “would follow to the letter” the formula of Palladio’s Villa Chiericati, a building in Vincenza with a facade that Shapiro had visited and liked. Palladio, he says, is “one of those guys who is both ancient and modern. There’s spareness and efficiency in his designs. He took the basic proportions of the Greeks and Romans and updated it, making it grander and taller.”

A self-taught designer and architectural scholar, Shapiro drew up the plans for his engineer and contractors. “Once you lock into Palladio’s proportions, it’s very simple,” he says. “If the diameter of the column is X, their height has to be Y. If the height is Y, the building has to be Z wide.”

When it was complete, he would make it look even more authentic by ever so gently destroying it. “I liked the idea of deceiving myself,” Shapiro says, “to look out the window and see an ancient ruin.” Situated at the end of the algae-green pool that Shapiro loves to see covered in leaves, Shapiro’s Palladian portico exemplifies the architectural exuberance and excess of the folly.

From the bottom of its distressed concrete steps to the ornamental half-moon that sits at the peak of its triangular pediment, Shapiro’s Palladian folly stands more than 21 feet tall.The four Ionic columns were made from redwood by Joe Madden of Madden Millworks in San Pedro. They were fitted with resin capitals and fiberglass bases slathered in lime and plaster, then painted by a Hollywood scenic designer to achieve Shapiro’s primary aesthetic goal.

“Decrepitude,” he proclaims. “I think filthier is better. If you study European construction, it’s not nearly as fussy and refined. Here, if someone gets a little flaking paint on their house, it’s a panic situation.” To prove his point, Shapiro has been known to pour coffee and tea on paving stones and cement to give them a more aged patina. He is thrilled that the plaster in the portico has hairline cracks and vines are creeping across the walls. “I think it is a bit of a sore thumb, but that is softened by the foliage around it,” he says. “If I had it to do over I would destroy it even more.”

Behind the portico’s impressive facade, which could keep company with Washington, D.C., landmarks (complete with reflecting pool), the room has 13-foot ceilings and measures 19 feet across. Walls curve to meet a 19th century stone reproduction of a Renaissance hearth purchased in Antwerp, Belgium.

Folly is defined as a nonsensical creation or activity,” Shapiro says. “I not only qualify, I take that as a compliment.” Shapiro’s folly is in the grand tradition of European eccentricity.


This article by David A. Keeps appeared in the LA Times in June 2005

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Cherkley Court shell grotto by Belinda Eade 2007

Cherkley Court in Surrey has a new shell grotto by Belinda Eade  


Cherkley Court, near Leatherhead in Surrey, was the home of newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook, from 1910-1964. Beaverbrook was a cabinet minister in Churchill’s wartime government and Winston Churchill was a regular visitor to Cherkley. The house, rebuilt after a fire in the 1890s in high Victorian style, sits high on a ridge in the Surrey Hills surrounded by 400 acres of private estate with extensive views.

The house’s interior and the 16 acres of formal pleasure grounds surrounding it have been extensively and painstakingly restored in recent years. The formal gardens have been redesigned by landscape architect Simon Johnson and are now open to the public. On the lower terrace behind the house, overlooking the wooded downs beyond, shell artist Belinda Eade has built a grotto in a vault. 

The new grotto at Cherkley is Belinda’s largest work to date. A team of ten worked on 80 sq metres of walls and ceilings to create a shell grotto inspired by the Greek myth of Arethusa — a chaste water nymph who was transformed into a fountain. Some of the work was done in the studio, the naiads protecting Arethusa, for example, but most of the work had to be done on site and grotto building can be far from glamorous. Site preparation can involve anything from building seats, archways and alcoves to driving steel rods into walls to support huge lumps of stone.


In a recent interview in the Times, Belinda discussed her inspiration which varies according to the elements of the project she is working on at the time.

“Sometimes, when I‘m trying to make something very specific ­— an eye or a cheek —­ I have to decide which shell will be right for the job,” she said. “Other times, I‘ll have a pile of materials and they’ll dictate the direction. Tufa and slag have all sorts of incredible bits in them; rough stone is often suggestively figurative. You build them all together and let them dictate the flow.”

Some of the shells are far-fetched and expensive, imported from Japan, Australasia and the South Pacific, but many come from British shores, and would be thrown away if Belinda didn‘t salvage them. Fish markets provide mussels, cockles, scallops, whelks; London restaurants are a rich source of oysters. There was once a vast glasshouse conservatory on the upper terrace (it was destroyed by fire) and some of the coral from there has been reused in the grotto.

Twin garden seat pavilions have been restored and sited at either end of the lower terrace.




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Greek Style garden shed from Folly by Design



Fancy a folly but lack the funds to commission or the expertise to build one?



An American firm, Folly by Design, has come up with the answer. They will sell you a set of plans to build a shed with a mock Roman, Egyptian or Greek front door. Plans start from $49.95 for a 6′ x 8′ frame structure. Technical assistance is available by phone or email. Customisation for an extra fee, and if you live in the New York metro area they can even arrange to build it for you. 

Here is the preamble from their website: 

Welcome to FollybyDesign. We offer the discriminating consumer an alternative to the outdoor shed by providing plans for the completion of a ruin or folly structure. The concept of a wooden shed with a false facade is based on the time-honored tradition of the English folly building. It is intended to offer the view a diversion in the landscape while providing a practical solution to outdoor storage and/or garden needs.  


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Topiary and carpet bedding in St James’s park to mark the Tour de France in London 2007



The Tour de France comes to London


OK so this isn’t a folly but it a very endearing garden structure and I couldn’t resist including it.

In early July 2007 the Tour de France started in London. The first day was the Prologue, which took in a tour round the Royal Parks in London before the tour proper set off through Kent to the English Channel on the following day. The weather held and over a million people are estimated to have turned out to watch the race. We don’t get to see much topiary or carpet bedding in public parks these days – too expensive and labour intensive – so this example of “gardening” art combing the two techniques was a welcome addition to the London scene. 

These delightful topiary cyclists were commissioned by Mark Wasilewski, Park Manager of St James Park, to commemorate the occasion. They were actually grown in Italy and shipped over to the UK. There was another similar group commissioned by the LB Lambeth near Waterloo.

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The Nonument, Holland

 The Nonument, Holland

Folly Fanciers, I present the Nonument.

Strictly speaking, if your definition of a folly is a building with no particular function then this one does not qualify. On the other hand if it merely has to show folly in the designer or builder, then it does that in spades.

Commissioned by the City of The Hague as a surveillance hut for a bicycle park for the seaside resort of Schrevenige, the Nonument also acts as a piece of public art. The hut is contained in an object that is part monument, part strange fortification and part folly, deriving from seaside architecture, fortifications, lighthouses and earthworks. On top of the monument is a small house that periodically catches fire.

In January 2006 the project was featured on a series of postage stamps showcasing artworks by international artists in the Netherlands.

It was designed by the award-winning London practice FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste), run by Sean Griffiths, Charles Holland and Sam Jacob They have designed a number of interesting and eccentric buildings which seem particularly popular with the Dutch. Their web site is at http://www.fashionarchitecturetaste.com and has lots  more examples of quirky modern design.

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Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, Hyde Park, London, August 2007












The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007 






Off to Hyde Park to see the latest Serpentine Pavilion, this year designed by Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen.

From a distance it looks rather like a giants wooden spinning top has come to rest in Hyde Park.  Close up the pavilion is constructed from dark wooden triangular panels, like scales, bolted onto the framework.   A ramped walkway winds around the outside side up to the top, with twisted cord strung vertically around the outer edge of the side rail in place of windows for part of the way. (Thsi presumably also supports the ramp). Views across Kensington Gardens are progressively revealed as you ascend.

 At the top you step out onto a small viewing platform sited inside the dome of the pavilion  and overlooking the interior below. From here you can watch the visitors snacking in the adhoc coffee shop, sitting on the steps or bouncing on the large red velour balls provided for this purpose.

I feel the designers missed a trick here. Walking round the oexterior of a winding cone was rather like going up a helter skelter on the outside, how much more fun it would have been to then reverse the process and slide down round the interior on a mat to burst forth at  street level.











This year the pavilion is open from 24 August 5 November 2007. While you’re there, why not call in at another celebrated modern folly nearby, the Princess Diana Memorial fountain.

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