Commissioned by JCDecaux, sculptor Rona Smith has created Abeona, a major new 50ft cast bronze artwork in the heart of Paddington, inspired by the architecture of travel. The permanent sculpture will be unveiled in a private ceremony on Monday 27th June 2022.
Rona Smith says, ‘Since public transport networks play such an integral role in our daily lives, I found inspiration for Abeona in the proximity to Paddington station. This commission was an opportunity to bring to life the complex infrastructure of rail travel and the pathways or ‘tracks’ that connect us in our work, communities, and relationships.
As a Londoner, I frequently travel through incredible transport hubs intersecting thousands of lives and journeys. My intention is to reference not only the scale and history of these structures but also to draw attention to the physical human connection which they facilitate.’
The form of the sculpture is lifted directly from the artist’s line drawing of Paddington railway tracks receding to a vanishing point and it is the sketched, wavering pen on paper that gives the sculpture its organic quality. Rona explains, ‘The fluid nature of the line gives a personal and human feel to the industrial imagery and the sculpture peels away from the wall like a page from a sketch book.’
Abeona is named after the Roman goddess of outbound travel who protects travellers, particularly children, and ensures a safe passage. Rona says, ‘The sculpture plays with perspective, appearing to extend beyond the frame of the building and into the sky, giving a sense of taking off. The title Abeona evokes the beginning of epic journeys and reminds us of the thrill of a child’s first steps.’
Abeona’s kinetic lighting is inspired by the movement of trains shunting slowly into a station and casts shifting shadows across the sculpture. This gently fluctuating shadow play also suggests the careful movement of a pen across paper, reflecting the notion of the artwork as a three-dimensional drawing.
The railway imagery alludes to JCDecaux’s utilisation of travel hubs including bus stops, stations, and airports while offering an unmissable greeting to JCDecaux’s UK central London office. The fluid form of the sculpture complements the sharp simplicity of the architecture, its freeform quadrilaterals echoing the grid of windows in the adjacent wall. The sculpture sweeps away from the building and suspends in space, its foundations invisible. The work showcases impressive engineering allowing a lightness which is unexpected given the necessary robustness of such a structure.
Abeona is an ambitious work which was first imagined in 2017 and fabricated in 2020 against the backdrop of the pandemic. Commissioned by JCDecaux, this work was realised in collaboration with fabricator Pangolin Editions, engineers Ramboll and Jenkins Potter, and lighting designer Spiers Major.
Jean-François Decaux, Co-CEO of JCDecaux said “Abeona is an important new London sculpture from Rona Smith that we are proud to commission and bring to the public view in Paddington, the home of JCDecaux UK which has recently undergone a complete development by Jean-Michel Wilmotte. Inspired by the goddess of travel and by the architecture of Rail, this thought-provoking sculpture launches as travel returns post-pandemic, and underlines the power of art and design to improve the public realm. As the world’s leading Out-of-Home company, JCDecaux works with stakeholders across the world to improve the cityscape through well-designed media spaces that provide valuable assets for cities and people, in line with JCDecaux’s founding principles to “always, always serve the community”.
Design excellence is at the heart of JCDecaux’s business, working with world renowned architects to create products and services that enhance life in cities funded by advertising – including bus shelters, public defibrillators, and bike sharing schemes.
Sustainable design underpins all JCDecaux’s activities. In the UK, JCDecaux partnered with Zaha Hadid Design to launch The Kensington, an award-winning sculptural billboard. Creating beautiful street furniture that enhances the cityscape in the UK and around the world, JCDecaux worked with Foster + Partners for the Kensington bus shelters with touch screens and USB chargers.
Future-facing design that also respects heritage is central to JCDecaux’s approach. JCDecaux’s West London Office (a 1930s listed building) won a RIBA Regional Award and the RIBA Crown Estate Conservation Architecture Award, following an exceptional design by Foster + Partners. For JCDecaux’s central London office, Wilmotte & Associés reimagined the two original 1970s buildings, creating a sustainable and streamlined building that meets 21st century needs, ensuring that the building complements the adjoining conservation area.
The launch of Abeona at JCDecaux’s central London office in Paddington continues this vision, combining art and design with this existing new work by Rona Smith.
Lead image, and portraits of artist Copyright – JCDecaux
Cad drawing – Copyright Rona Smith
Inspiration image – copyright TBC