Top Five Public Sculptures: Cardiff

Cardiff is home to over 200 public artworks, from 19th-century commemorative statues to abstract works and celebrations of local industries commissioned as part of 20th-century regeneration projects. It is not difficult to spot many public sculptures as you walk around and they enhance what is already a fascinating City.

This is my personal top five. Let us know if you have any other favourites.

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5. Nereid, by Nathan David, 1996, The Friary

In Greek mythology, the Nereids are sea nymphs which often accompany Poseidon, the god of the sea. This bronze nymph stands on a wave, above a shoal of fish, and holds a sea bird in her left hand. Nereids can be friendly and helpful to sailors fighting perilous storms, so hopefully this one will offer some protection to the sailors setting out from Cardiff harbour.

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4. Sculptures on the National Museums Wales, 1914–1915, Cathays Park

You’ll need to look up to the top of the building to see these sculptures. A number of different sculptors designed the embellishment to the National Museum, including John Thomas Clapperton, Gilbert Bayes, Richard Louis Garbe, Bertram Pegram and David Evans. Some sculptures represent industries and artistic pursuits, including shipping, mining, music and learning. The figurative groups at the front of the building represent different historical periods – prehistoric, classical, medieval and modern. The image above shows the prehistoric and classical periods, both designed by Gilbert Bayes.

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3. All Hands, by Brian Fell, 2001, Custom House Street

Installed alongside the Glamorganshire Canal, this large sculpture depicts the hands of canal workers pulling their boats along with heavy ropes. The Glamorganshire Canal used to run from Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff Docks, transporting raw materials from the valleys into Cardiff and beyond, but it went out of use in the 1940s. Most of the canal has been filled in.

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2. Alight, by S. Mark Gubb, 2014, Mary Ann Street

A fairly new public artwork in the City Centre, this 10-metre high illuminated lightning bolt, made from painted steel and glass, was commissioned by Admiral Group, Stoford Developments and EMP Projects, and is sited outside Admiral’s offices. Alight was designed to contain movement and its sides are inset with coloured lights that scroll down from top to bottom, making it very eye-catching, especially when it gets dark.

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1. Welsh National War Memorial by Sir J. Ninian Comper, 1928, Alexandra Gardens

This striking monument commemorates the servicemen and women who died during World War I. A commemorative plaque for those who died during World War II was added in 1949.

The memorial has a circular colonnade surrounding a sunken court, at the centre of which is a group of three bronze sculptures arranged around a stone pylon. The three figures are a soldier, a sailor and an airman, each holding a wreath. Above them, on top of the structure, is a winged male nude representing Victory.

The memorial was designed by Sir Ninian Comper and sculpted by Alfred Pegram. The stone masons were William D. Gough and Messrs E. Turner & Sons. The bronze statues were cast by A. B. Burton.

If you want to find out more about Cardiff’s public art, the city council has produced a Public Art Register. Their Public Art Strategy is also available online.


Top Five Public Sculptures: Birmingham

Work on the Your Sculpture project has been taking us around the UK in recent weeks and wherever we go, we keep an eye out for public sculptures to photograph and share on our Instagram account (@yoursculpture).

I had the opportunity to explore Birmingham last week and was struck by the extent and variety of public art in the city centre. Sculptures range from traditional statues of national heroes, such as Queen Victoria and Lord Nelson, to contemporary works by Antony Gormley, Gillian Wearing and Dhruva Mistry.

This is very much a personal top five. If there are other public sculptures in Birmingham that you particularly like, do let us know what they are and why you like them.

A Real Birmingham Family5. A Real Birmingham Family, Gillian Wearing, 2014, Centenary Square

The result of Ikon Gallery’s four-year project to find a ‘real’ Birmingham family to be immortalised in a sculpture, this work was created by Gillian Wearing, a Birmingham-born, Turner Prize-winning artist. Hundreds of families applied to take part in the project before a shortlist of four was selected by a diverse panel of community, cultural and religious figures. From this shortlist, the chosen family was Roma and Emma Jones, sisters and single parents, and their two sons Kyan and Shaye.

The sculpture has provoked some debate and controversy since its unveiling, being targeted by Fathers for Justice campaigners and criticised as a betrayal of traditional family values. Defenders have stated that the work represents Birmingham’s cultural diversity and challenges the notion of what constitutes a ‘real family’ in Britain today.

“I really liked how Roma and Emma Jones spoke of their closeness as sisters and how they supported each other. It seemed a very strong bond, one of friendship and family, and the sculpture puts across that connectedness between them. A nuclear family is one reality but it is one of many and this work celebrates the idea that what constitutes a family should not be fixed.” Gillian Wearing

Find out more about the project and the sculpture here.

Tony Hancock_Birmingham4. Tony Hancock, Bruce Williams, 1996, Old Square

The comedian and actor Tony Hancock was born in the Hall Green area of Birmingham in 1924. He is best known for his BBC series Hancock’s Half Hour, which ran first on radio from 1954, then on television from 1956. He died in 1968, aged 44.

Bruce Williams’ memorial was unveiled by Sir Harry Secombe on 13 May 1996. Originally intended to be placed on New Street, it was temporarily placed on the Corporation Street edge of Old Square, which at that time was opposite a Blood Donor Clinic, the subject of Hancock’s well-known sketch. The statue was later relocated to the centre of Old Square, where it remains.

War Memorial_Birmingham3. Statues on the Hall of Memory, Albert Toft, 1925, Centenary Square

The Hall of Memory is a war memorial commemorating the 12,320 Birmingham citizens who died in the First Word War. The building was designed by S. N. Cooke and W. N. Twist, and built between 1923 and 1925 by John Barnsley and Son.

The four statues around the exterior, by local artist Albert Toft, represent the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and Women’s Services. On the day I visited, the Women’s Services statue had been ‘flower-bombed’ by members of the Women’s Institute in response to the defacement of the Women’s War Memorial in Whitehall on Saturday 9 May 2015, by anti-Tory protestors. Read more about the flower-bombing here.

The Bull_Birmingham2. The Bull, Laurence Broderick, 2003, Bullring Shopping Centre

One of the largest bronze animal sculptures in the UK, this 2.2-metre (7ft 3in) tall running, turning bull stands at the main entrance to the Bullring’s west building.

The Bull is a popular spot for people to have their picture taken and on the day I visited, I had to wait a few minutes to be able to take a photograph. It’s a very tactile sculpture and visitors, especially children, seem keen to touch it and climb all over it. As I waited to take my photo, a mother held her young child up to The Bull’s face so he could kiss its nose!

Find out more about the sculpture and how it was made here.

The River_Birmingham1. The River, Dhruva Mistry, 1994, Victoria Square

The redevelopment of Victoria Square, from a busy road junction to a pedestrianised, public focal point, was started in 1992 and completed in 1994. An international design competition was held for a central water feature in the square, which was won by Dhruva Mistry. Four sculptures by Mistry are sited around the square: The River, Guardians, Youth and Object [Variations].

The River, a monumental female figure, representing the life force, sits in the upper pool in the square. Nicknamed ‘The Floozie in the Jacuzzi’, it is also a fountain, one of the largest in Europe, with a flow of 3,000 gallons per minute.

The following words, from the poem ‘Burnt Norton’ by T. S. Eliot, are engraved in the rim of the upper pool:

‘And the pool was filled with water of sunlight, And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly, The surface glittered out of heart of light, And they were behind us, reflected in the pool. Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.’

The water from the upper pool flows into a lower pool, in which is another of Mistry’s sculptures, Youth. On either side of the fountain are two large stone sculptures known as the Guardians (image below). On either side of these sculptures are two obelisk-shaped sculptures, Object (Variations), which act as lampstands in the square.Guardian_Birmingham

Further information on Birmingham’s public sculpture:

Birmingham City Council

The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association has produced two books on Birmingham in their Public Sculpture of Britain series, published by Liverpool University Press:

Public Sculpture of Birmingham by George T. Noszlopy, 1998

Birmingham Sculpture Trails by George T. Noszlopy and Fiona Waterhouse, 2007