Artist’s Residencies in the City

The London Mappa Mundi:
Timothy Hyman
at the London Eye and other high places in London

I’m interested in the Eye and its movement, the crowd in the capsule as well as the sense of the city below. Near and far, inside and outside, spectator and spectacle, the shifting relation of one capsule to another, as well as the dance of the towers and the landmarks.’

Timothy Hyman is enthralled by the total experience of the London Eye, which he has now ‘flown’ a number of times, sketchbook in hand. But drawing on the Eye is fraught with difficulties. It is tangibly a race against time as the gigantic clock slowly ticks over. Not only is the view changing all the time: the relation of your capsule to other capsules is also constantly shifting, at certain points momentarily creating dramatic effects. Working at a breakneck speed, Hyman has already filled his sketchbook with many double-page drawings. But most of these, he dismisses as failures.

The ultimate aim of Hyman’s residency is to create, using the drawings from the Eye and other vantage points in London, a panoramic painting mapping out the totality of the city: Hyman’s own Mappa Mundi. This represents for Hyman a culmination of a life-long fascination with panoramic and map-like images, such as Ambrogio Lorenzrtti’s Well Governed City, the Hereford Mappa Mundi and the Girtin panorama. It also reflects his deep attachment to his city. London’s streets, the river with its bridges, and the skyline pierced by familiar landmarks have been recurrent features of his work over many years.

For Hyman, the panorama is not an exercise in topography, but a cosmic experience. He feels that ‘as soon as you have the curved horizon you are somehow in the realm of the cosmic, of the planetary’ beyond ‘the contingency of the street, the contingency of daily life.’ It is a state of grace, in which magically, you are allowed to see everything and participate in everything: a quality he admires in Lorenzetti and Brueghel’s panoramic vision. Flying the London Eye is almost a cosmic event by itself. Hyman could not help noticing the insistent cosmic circularity of everything about the London Eye. The shape of the Eye, its movement, the form of its capsules, the curved horizon, and the human eye that perceives these: they are all circles, like the Mappa Mundi and Dante’s cosmology.

The painting that will form the centrepiece of Hyman’s exhibition is yet to take shape. For now, he is toying with several compositional ideas, including the circle, circle in a square, overlapping arcs and the cinemascope. He believes he can resolve the tension inherent in panoramas: the fact that it ‘gives us a kind of omniscience, but holds us at a distance’, by playing with scale, using cut-away sections, or introducing figures that hover above the city.
Hyman will next be climbing the tower of Guy’s Hospital overlooking London Bridge. The London Arts Café hopes to enable Hyman to access more sites in the course of the residency.

Timothy Hyman was born in 1946 and studied at the Slade. He has exhibited in numerous group exhibitions as well as in solo shows, the latest of which was at Austin Desmond Fine Art, London in June this year. His work is in various public collections including the British Museum. Hyman is also a distinguished lecturer and writer. His latest book Sienese Painting (Thames and Hudson) has just been published. He was curator of Carnivalesque (2000) and the Stanley Spencer retrospective at the Tate (2001).

Joanna Whittle     Artists Residencies





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