As with any January, there is a chill to the wind surrounding us as we wish away the coldest days still to come. A quietly playful addition to the centre of Bermondsey Square, London, is the latest SCULPTURE AT public sculpture commission. Cloud Study (2017) by the British artist Charlie Godet Thomas is a two-metre high weather vane featuring a yellow speech bubble which contrasts the leaden skies above.
A small cloud symbolising bad luck and misfortune follows the cartoon character, Joe Btfsplk, from the American cartoon ‘Li’l Abner’ created by Al Cap that ran between 1934 – 1977, which Godet Thomas is referencing in this artwork. Visually cheerful and warm, Cloud Study depicts an exclamation of triumph over the character’s blues and bad luck despite its mocking tone which reads, “YO’ IS STUCK IN THAR FO’EVER, LI’L GRAY CLOUD!!-“. The words signal a change in his future as the character Joe Btfsplk takes control of his fate and manages to trap the grey cloud that follows him around in a cave. Ironically, later in the comic he is forced to release the cloud once more to save himself, returning to a life filled with gloom.
Godet Thomas takes this speech bubble out of context and reframes it as something new and contemporary whilst bringing the obscure comic reference to a new audience and environment giving it a new reading and meaning that reflects its environment. His heavily coded practice often explores how words and visuals interact with one another and how the tragic and the humorous can both be present as they are in real life.
Exposed to the elements and isolated, the piece also acts as a symbol of mental health and luck in life more generally. It comments on the tragi-comic nature of life which is mirrored in the oscillating movements of the sculpture as it twists and turns in the wind. The wind acts as the forces outside of our control in our lives and the weather vane like each of us is constantly pushed and pulled.
Public sculpture is often large and imposing whereas Cloud Study is unusually subtle and unobtrusive. This is in part due to the work sharing the square with an antiques market, one of the oldest in London, so the sculpture had to adapt to the space.
In Cloud Study Sketch (2017), Godet Thomas explores the sculpture in a drawing alongside its creation, giving the viewer clues in how the work could be read. This sketch has been created in his comic style using words over the imagery depicting a stylized weather vane in the centre mimicking the street lamp featured on the left. The words ‘I don’t know what it is, But I know I don’t like it’ hints at how the artwork may be received as it has been taken out of the traditional gallery and placed into a public space amongst locals who are left to come to their own conclusions.
SCULPTURE AT and VITRINE gallery have propelled this unique approach to public art forward reflecting the changing art climate in London (and now with a new space in Basel), and refreshingly offer an alternative to the ‘white cube’ experience, presenting artworks exposed to the public outdoors or in window vitrine spaces that draw the passer by in.
Charlie Godet Thomas, Cloud Study, 2017. Commission for SCULPTURE AT Bermondsey Square, London. Photographer Jonathan Bassett. Image courtesy VITRINE.
If you enjoyed this work please see the work of artist do visit here to see Tobias Rehberber’s work