Lost property art: London's forgotten works on show

They share little in terms of style and quality but the works in a new London art exhibition have one thing in common- they were all left in taxis, buses or on the train and never claimed.

"The Lost Collection", as it's called, is drawn from the Ali Baba-style store rooms of the Transport for London (TfL), which runs the capital's transport network.

Many of the 60 or so paintings, photographs and sketches on show are signed by the artist, but their owners never came back for them...at least until now.

"These art works are kind of worthless," admits Richard Walker, the artistic director of the KK Outlet gallery in the trendy east London district of Hoxton where they can be seen during the month of June.

But they hit a soft spot in Walker "because of the intrinsic value of someone's personal possession, and because they have worked very hard on that work."

"I wanted to give them the opportunity to be shown in a gallery," he said.

They normally sit among some 200,000 left items the TfL retrieves each year, ranging from run-of-the-mill books, bags, clothes and keys to the more quizzical, like a set of false teeth, a prosthetic leg, a skeleton and even a lawnmower.

Only one in four of these objects are ever claimed by their owners, though when items are clearly valuable - an urn was left behind containing somebody's ashes - the staff do their best to locate the owners.

Artwork abounds, and the best of this "Lost Collection" - from carefully crafted paintings to children's colourful drawings - is now being shown in public for the first time.

One painting represents "disembodied lips blowing trumpet on fleshy mound", as the lost property staff described it. Another is entitled "Character in Striking Red (Falling Through Black Hole?)," signed J.Y.

Walker came up with the idea of an exhibition after visiting the TfL lost property office, one of the largest in Britain. It took him a year to trawl through the tat to pick out items he thought was worth putting on display. And Transport for London was only too happy to help him.

"TfL is always looking for innovative ways to raise awareness of the types of items that are lost on London's transport network and handed into the lost property office," a spokesman said.

They may not be masterpieces, but the artworks have struck a chord.

"A lot of people have been coming in, and a lot of people ask if any of the paintings are for sale," Walker said, adding that they remain the property of TfL and therefore cannot be bought.

"If you look at the items that are on show, you don't really judge them for their technical ability or anything like that. You're more interested in the story behind: who might have done it, what they felt when they lost their work."

For gallery manager Danielle Pender, "the anonymous nature of the work invites a creative interpretation from the viewer of the content and inspiration behind the work."

The exhibition has also solved a few mysteries, particularly for works that were featured on posters put in the corridors of the London Underground.

One man recognised a portrait of his brother, wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head, on his knees as if praying; another identified the work of a friend, a student in Spain.

And a montage of photographs turned out to be the end-of-year project of an art school student. He was overjoyed at recovering the work, which contained pictures of his dead father.

All of them "were quite shocked, I mean very surprised, very proud as well" to see their works displayed in public, Walker said, adding that these items would be returned to their rightful owners once the exhibition ends.

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