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Co-opting Olympic success, heartache and anguish

Sarah Morris’ 18-arch long artwork is an Olympic feat itself, writes James Pallister

Rather than pick some of Great Britain’s many talented illustrators or graphic designers, the panel who chose the commemorative posters to mark the 2012 Olympic Games gave the commissions instead to some of Britart’s more glitzy, and bankable names.

The results are good, with work from Bob and Roberta Smith, Martin Creed, Fiona Banner, Rachel Whiteread and Chris Ofili all delighting, but it’s a shame that some of London, Glasgow or Newcastle’s thriving graphic art scenes weren’t given a crack at it, rather than opting for the established names borrowed from ‘high’ art.

One of the lucky few was Kent-born Sarah Morris. The artist’s bright, geometric canvases and other work has long taken inspiration from the Olympic Games, including the 2008 films Beijing and 1972. She’s a favourite of corporate artwork collectors and her work features in the interior décor of Lend Lease’s London HQ.

For the London Games, she made a painting of Big Ben, taking the popular London landmark and abstracting it into her familiar flattened segments of bright colour, intersected at intervals and varying angles by thick lines. The resulting artwork is available on posters but also features in Art on the Underground’s twelfth commission for their flagship venue at Gloucester Road station.

The piece, spread over eighteen arches extending the length of a disused platform, makes a static antidote to the aggressive station cladding that has started to appear over London – notably at Euston Station where the fast-food chain at the centre of the Olympic Park’s ban on serving chips (there’s a loophole involving fish – look it up) has dominated the modernist concourse with its video screens and poster wraps of crowds; co-opting Olympic success, heartache and anguish.

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