the Campbells Newsroom

Olympic artist seeks to regenerate historic San Francisco neighborhood with “Hard Bop” commission
August 4, 2008, 7:45 pm
Filed under: architecture, art, design, event, urban development



As One of Twenty-Five Artists Selected from among More Than 2600 Applicants Worldwide, John Atkin Exhibits Sculpture “Strange Meeting” at Bejing’s Olympic Park; His Stateside Commissioned Work, “Hard Bop”, Explores the Jazz History of San Francisco’s Legendary Fillmore District

(San Francisco – July 2008) In the summer and fall of 2008, British artist John Atkin puts his stamp on the international stage with two high-profile public art pieces: “Strange Meeting” – a marble sculpture inspired by Wilfred Owen’s poem of the same name, that has been on view in Beijing’s Olympic Park since June 2008; and “Hard Bop” – a stainless steel sculpture which celebrates and explores the jazz history of San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore District, to be unveiled October 25, 2008, in the city district’s Fillmore Plaza.

With these commissions, Atkin produces vital, new work in two regions of truly global interest—San Francisco, a high-tech capital, international tourist destination and major Pacific Rim outpost, and Beijing, the Chinese capital and host of the 2008 Summer Games.

“Hard Bop” – Fillmore Plaza, San Francisco:

Click on image to view hi-res rendering of Hard Bop

Click on image to view hi-res rendering of "Hard Bop"

Riffing off the rich jazz history of its San Francisco site, the Fillmore Plaza-situated “Hard Bop” aims to thematically re-connect the surrounding community with its sense of history and place. During WWII, the Fillmore District was the capital of West Coast jazz—legendary performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong regularly graced neighborhood jazz clubs—but fell into hard times soon after. As part of the Fillmore Plaza development, currently under construction and set to unveil in mid-October 2008, “Hard Bop” references the Fillmore’s rich cultural history, and aims to imbue the regenerating neighborhood with a renewed sense of its vibrancy.

“This is a piece about movement and rhythm,” explains Atkin. “When you think about it: how do you put concepts like that into a piece?” To answer that, “Hard Bop” starts with a series of stainless steel garment template forms, linked together vertically. These forms expand upward and outward, evoking musical notes, and suggesting flowing movement and space. More representational musical elements – non-specific machine head keys, and vertical lines referencing musical staves or string instruments – were later incorporated, giving the piece added resonance with the neighborhood’s rich past. This approach produces many layers of meaning, as Atkin explains, “the beauty of the piece is not that it’s not descriptive; it’s evocative.”

The commission for “Hard Bop” was made possible by the Fillmore Center.

View the making of “Hard Bop” in this video by John Atkin:

“Strange Meeting” – Olympic Park, Beijing:

Click image to view hi-res version of Strange Meeting

Click image to view hi-res photo of "Strange Meeting"

Atkin’s sculpture was selected by the Beijing Municipal Government for its reflection of the Olympics’ “One World, One Dream” theme. The piece is formally rooted in intricate garment pattern templates the artist first found in a warehouse. The piece consists of two identical marble blocks, facing each other, with one erect and the other one supine.

Totaling 27 tons and measuring 3.5 m3, the two marble pieces were so large that they had to be quarried and cut on Chinese soil. Atkin explains: “The marble and granite sections of the artwork are normally beyond the scope of what’s possible in the UK, so it’s been invigorating to realize a sculpture using such large sections of both materials. The Chinese work force were tremendous – their attention to detail and ability to translate the subtle shifts in form of the sculpture was a remarkable achievement.”

Inspiration for “Strange Meeting” comes from a Wilfred Owen poem of the same name. “The poem, which recounts a dramatic meeting between a soldier and the enemy he had killed the day before, deals with the futility of war. It’s essentially a poem of reconciliation, but there is a subtext to it too, especially in light of East/West relations, that floated under the selection committee’s radar.” Atkin describes the sculpture itself as a natural fit for the exhibition: “There is at the same time a harmony expressed within the formal relationships of the sculpture, which empathizes with the ‘One World-One Dream’ concept for the Beijing Olympics.”

The exhibition is funded by Beijing City Space Sculpture Exhibition Committee. Beijing Olympic Art Dream-2007/2008; Beijing International City Sculpture Exhibition is a comprehensive art activity sponsored by Beijing Municipal Government An Olympic “hopeful” itself, “Strange Meeting” has already won an “Outstanding Award.”

About John Atkin:
John Atkin studied painting at Leicester Polytechnic before being personally invited by Henry Moore to visit his studios at Much Hadam. Moore was impressed by Atkin’s work and funded his postgraduate study at the Royal College of Art.

Atkin has exhibited extensively in England, Europe, Australia and the United States, including at the Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne (formerly Heide Park and Art Gallery), The Kouros Gallery in New York, and The Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. He has received awards from the British Council and Australian Councils and is currently the recipient of a Rootstein Hopkins Award for Drawing.

Atkin has also been invited to complete several high profile public commissions throughout the UK and worldwide. As well as public art commissions, he has in depth experience of working with architects and urban designers on major urban regeneration projects, such as the Breaking Boundaries project – winner of the Landscape Institute Award 2007 – for Kent County Council in Ashford.

Press Contact:
Brent Turner
office: 323-300-6132
mobile: 323-244-5058


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