Lexington Street Spitfires

Lexington Street, London, United Kingdom

In 2015, a site-specific, architectural art installation of stained glass Spitfires was made in Lexington Street, Soho (then the Soho PACE Gallery space) for the exhibition Spitfires and Primroses. Brian Clarke’s panels are visible to passers-by when glowing at night, and by day can be seen from within the gallery space.

In the 2015 catalogue Brian Clarke: Spitfires & Primroses 2012–2014 / Works 1977–85, Clarke wrote:

‘When my Spitfires made their inevitable progress into stained glass, a whole new experience was born. The windows I executed for Lexington Street, London, were groundbreaking for me not just because they were ‘nocturnal’ windows primarily, designed to be seen from outside at night in a response to the texture of urban Soho, but also because of the technical advances made during their creation. HENI, who commissioned the project, had been making printed editions for painters that brought an astonishing level of faithful detail and focus. I had never seen such lifelike reproductions before: every brushstroke and line impeccably reproduced so that it was impossible to tell without touching if the surface was thick with impasto.'

'The idea of using stained glass as a translation of easel painting, rather than embracing its innate characteristics, was often derided as a sort of betrayal of the medium. In the 18th and 19th centuries, painters who took this approach received criticism for it – when I made the Lexington Street windows, I took this sacrilege a stage further. Using the new technology, I rendered the clouds from my Spitfires oil paintings and digitally printed them in ceramic glaze, which was then fired into the glass onto which the multicoloured stained glass Spitfires are set.'

When that simulacrum for easel painting (like a canvas, showing every line created by the brush where it was dragged over the weave of the cloth) is broken by a transparent Spitfire, the contrast is stunning. It reconvinced me that nothing is forbidden in the pursuit of visual expression: anything is possible and everything is allowed.’