The London Courthouse: Surprise – Art!

Everyday I find more to appreciate in the town where I live, London Ont Canada. Here is a story about an exciting day when I unexpectedly stumbled across some artistic treasure in an unlikely place...

I know basically nothing about contemporary architecture. But there's a building here In London Canada that has always compelled me – the London Court House at 80 Dundas Street. A woman I know who works inside the building looked at me like I was crazy when I told her that. Nonetheless, I just have a general feeling of liking it. One of the reasons I probably like it has to do with the strangely beautiful fiberglass sculptures perched just outside the north (Queen Street) side of the building by Walter Redinger (1974), titled "Xabis".

One day a few years ago when I was feeling whimsical and carefree, I decided to go into the building and have a peek around. I didn't reckon on the security guards checking out my bag on the way in, but in hindsight I should have expected such a welcome. Slightly rattled by a security check I hadn't expected, I tried to appear confident and to walk in with purpose – but the truth was I had absolutely no reason to go in there at all, and absolutely no idea what I would do once inside, other than look around inside the building.

Turns out there is a Red Roaster on the main level, so I ordered a coffee and decided to take the elevator to a random floor, like the kids in the C.S. Lewis children's book The Magician's Nephew who jump into the pools and re-appear in a new world. I picked floor # 6 – like I said, completely at random, with no expectations whatsoever. When the elevator door opened, there before me was an extraordinary art installation which spanned the entire wall before me, from top to bottom! As a bonus, it was memorable and interesting typographic art. What luck! A random art experience.

The work is called "Words" (1974) by a ceramic artist named Margot Phillips Ariss, who (according to the plaque) was "put to the test" as almost 600 kilograms of clay and nine months of labour were needed to create an installation of letters made out of ceramic. To create each letter (which make up an historical excerpt which is about pioneers or something), Margot Phillips Ariss used "stencils and a sewing needle and fired each letter twice in a kiln". Um hello, she used a sewing needle to cut the clay into this mass of huge and small letters? The piece has a monumental quality to it. With no background information on the commission, it's hard to speculate on whether the artist was using the title with any cynicism. Some of the letters have been vandalized, which is a real shame.

Passing away from Alzheimer's in 2013 in London, James Reaney writes here in the London Free Press that she was "a sculptor with a poet’s command of words and a printer’s passion for fonts" (November 28, 2013).

So there you have it – I recommend a visit to the London Courthouse, Floor #6!