On a side street in St James is a hotel, with an underground car park, and a long frieze of concrete art. A lot of people using the hotel won’t know it’s here, as the main entrance is around the other side, but if you were to walk down Duke Street, then a wall of shaped concrete greets you.
It’s a work of art by William Mitchell, an English sculptor best known for large scale concrete murals and public works of art between the 1960s and 1970s.
Its presence here is likely therefore to date from when the Cavendish hotel was rebuilt in the 1960s, replacing a war-damaged, but much-loved predecessor. It’s not that obvious from close up, but the hotel has a tall central tower, in a very 1960s podium style that would never be permitted today, but it does mean the occupants get very good views of the skyline.
Initially self-taught and later formally educated, William Mitchell’s big breakthrough was securing a job with the London County Council, where he was able to work with a lot of post-war architects, and later set up his own firm. At its height, it employed 40 people working on public art commissions across the country
As a work of art, it’s very marmite, either you like it or loathe it. Much of Mitchell’s work suffered from a degree of antipathy in later years, but he has seen a resurgence in recent years and some of his public art is gaining listed status to protect it.
I am sure there are deeper meanings to the castings on the concrete wall, and maybe an art historian can give a 20-minute talk about it, but I just admired it as a work of art that’s very much of its time, and good to see it in situ.
The only oddity is that they were originally bronzed but have since been painted white.