Created and Sold by John Atkin

John Atkin
Searchlight Beacons | Sculptures by John Atkin | London Southend Airport in Southend-on-Sea
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Searchlight Beacons - Sculptures

Featured In London Southend Airport, Southend-on-Sea, United Kingdom

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This landmark artwork (including seating designs) was commissioned by Commission Projects on behalf of London Southend Airport (LSA) as a beacon to herald the opening of the new Terminal Building. The project formed part of a wider Thames Gateway Development linking the Isle of Dogs to Southend: promoting faster business links and a commuter friendly environment for UK and international visitors to the Essex Region and London.

My research explored how the 21st Century role of the airport in civil aviation and its 20th Century history, which could be reconciled within a celebratory icon that simultaneously, functioned as gateway, way-finding device, and artwork, with educational associations for the community and visitors to the airport.

The ephemeral forms of 20th Century searchlight beams became the basis for a sculpture that captured the notion of iconic imagery from both World Wars as well as the concept of a celebratory beacon heralding the renewal of the airport in the 21st Century. The surface of the sculpture, brushed stainless steel, populated by silhouettes of wartime and peacetime aircraft, record the significant aircraft associated with the development of LSA. The illuminated interior of the sculpture transforms the appearance of the sculpture during night-time when the illuminated laser-cut aircraft silhouettes appear to rotate around the conical forms of the sculpture.

The use of ‘searchlights’ in the centerpiece of the sculpture is a reference to the airports past military history but they also offer a further significance. Literally pointing upwards, they are forward-looking; future looking: suggesting a significance to the airport’s re-emergence and it’s role in catalysing local regeneration: building new futures and histories in this part of Essex.

My artwork successfully re-connects the three distinct periods of the airport by using aircraft shapes, representative of each period of LSA’s history. Each beacon has been laser cut with a different aircraft shape and when viewing the work – whether up close, at different angles, lit up at night, or when caught by sunlight – all three aircraft are un-mistakenly and evenly linked together, giving the long presence of the airport in this area, a joined-up history and legacy.

The overarching brief for the project was to create two artworks: one for the plaza space outside the new terminal building and another for the seating area outside the new hotel, located 800 meters from the terminal building. The aim was to connect the two spaces by using an iconic signature artwork (the beacons) and way-finding devices that linked the two spaces. My research into airplane development associated with LSA highlighted the elegant design of tail fins throughout this part of the twentieth century, so I created a series of polished granite pod seats as resting places along the walkway that linked the Terminal to the Hotel. These granite seat pods are illustrated in the attached separate document.

My research into the history of the site included community consultation that recorded histories of those citizens who participated in, or recalled WW2. When my sculpture was unveiled by Rt. Hon. Mark Francois, Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, we were joined by local WW2 Veterans to celebrate the opening of the new sculpture.

The Minister –MP for Rayleigh and Wickford since 2001 – said when declaring Searchlight Beacons officially open “Economically the airport has been a huge success, creating more than 500 new jobs for local people, and I want to thank the Stobart Group for all the money they have invested in creating such an asset for Essex. It is marvellous that we now have this sculpture which is a reminder of the history of this place going back more than 100 years. It is also lovely to see veterans here today, as recognising the heritage of the airport, including during the Second World War, is hugely important.”

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John Atkin
Meet the Creator
"Since graduating from London's Royal College of Art, where Henry Moore personally funded Atkin's MA Sculpture, John Atkin has exhibited his work worldwide, from Southend and San Francisco to Fuzhou, China. Recent publications on Atkin's output focus on references to cultural heritage within the contemporary landscape; his research interest lies in public art and the interaction it provides people with artwork.

John Atkin's sculptures have global appeal, changing 'space' into 'place'. Public art builds community landmarks and meeting points for generations and cultures to come. His work has been the subject of widespread media interest and editorials that focus on his public sculptures, here in the UK & overseas."