The other day I was confronted by this image which had been tacked up on the construction barrier at Tottenham Court Road. It was part of the 100 Years, 100 Artists, 100 Works of Art, comissioned by Art on the Underground to celebrate the centenary of the “roundel” or Underground Logo. The posters for the suitably random exhibit can still be seen around town, a bit smog-speckled. The offerings were spotty and can be seen here.
The roundel is meditation-worthy: a beacon of primary colors and simple shapes that calls to you wherever you might find yourself in London. It promises to get you where you need to be, pointing to a magic carpet you just happen to share with 7 million other Londoners and another million tourists as well.
I come from Los Angeles where the car is venerated, and in some areas there are no pavements, no zebra crossings. Whole swaths of the landscape are only traversable by automobile, and I never learned to drive. The contrast in mobility is so stark between the two locales that the roundel has taken on a generous, freeing emotional association for me.
But I didn’t pay much attention to this until the Bloor piece accosted me with its Banksy-esque stencil font and its hyperbolic assertion which is nonetheless true. This “vast expanse of the world” is beyond notions of empire, though the cultural panoply of London may have started there, it is now something else entirely.
A little girl builds the rondel as if from blocks. When she is done, she will have placed together a magic key to a microcosm on which the sun never sets. This is the beginning of the fairy tale every Londoner knows.