An unusual and controversial welcome to Britain

A new frieze that greets Eurostar passengers at St Pancras International reflects the 'mechanised warfare, Blitzkrieg and death' of the railways. Jerome Taylor reports

Saturday 11 October 2008 00:00

When the British artist Paul Day unveiled his nine metre-high bronze statue of two lovers locked in an embrace at London's brand new St Pancras International station last year it was lambasted as "kitsch", "overblown" and "truly horrific".

Now, a brief glimpse of a new frieze to wrap around a plinth for The Meeting Place statue has been revealed, depicting "dream-like" scenes inspired by the railways.

Passengers arriving from the continent will be greeted with a series of images, including a Tube train driven by a skeleton as a bearded drunk sways precariously close to the passing train. Another shows the attempted suicide of a jilted lover under a train reflected in the sunglasses of a fellow passenger. Another section reveals a woman in a short skirt with her legs wrapped round her lover while they wait for the next train.

Other less controversial parts of the terracotta draft frieze depicts soldiers leaving on troop trains for the First World War and the evacuation of London's underground network after the terror attacks of 7 July 2005.

Until the unveiling of The Meeting Place last year, Day, who lives in France, was best known for the Battle of Britain memorial on Embankment. His new frieze looks set to be a return to the sort of crammed bronze montages that has made him so well known. Day said he wanted the new plinth to act as the ying to the larger statue's yang.

"For me this sculpture has always been about how our dreams collide with the real world," he said. "The couple kissing represent an ideal, a perfect dream reality that ultimately we cannot obtain. The same is true of the railways. They were a dream come true, an incredible feat of engineering but they also brought with them mechanised warfare, Blitzkrieg and death."

Day is still working on the final bronze frieze which will be wrapped around the bottom of the plinth in June next year but he says he wants the 50 million passengers that pass through St Pancras every year to be able to get up close and personal with the final product. "The statue is like a signpost to be seen and understood from far away," he said. "Its size is measured in terms of the station itself. The frieze, on the other hand, is intended to capture the gaze of passers-by and lead them on a short journey of reflections about travel and change that echoes their presence in St Pancras, adding a very different experience to The Meeting Place sculpture."

Brushing aside some of the criticism levelled at his work that has compared it to cartoons or comic strips, Day said he believed his work would stand the test of time. "All the crap that was hurled at the sculpture was just that, crap," he said. "The reaction from the critics was so strangely hostile but I believe time will tell whether people, not the art press, will value the piece.

"When people criticise my reliefs for looking like comic strips they have got the wrong end of the stick. Throughout the ages, man has been telling stories through a series of pictures, whether it's stained glass windows, sculptures or photojournalism. My friezes are part of that tradition."

Stephen Jordan, from London and Continental Railways, which commissioned the piece, said: "The Meeting Place seeks to challenge and has been well received by visitors who love to photograph it. In addition, it performs an important role within the station, being visible from pretty much anywhere on the upper level of St Pancras International and doing exactly what was planned, making the perfect meeting place for friends."

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