Inspired by art

Nicola Bover

Interiors Designer, Retail Design

Art in our shops

When you next visit your local John Lewis take a look at the building as you may be surprised to find more than clothes, furniture and accessories - art!

Our association with art is a tradition that began when the Founder's father, John Lewis, commissioned a bust of Lord Byron for the facade of the former John Lewis shop at 24 Holles Street. Sadly, this sculpture was destroyed during WWII.

So when the rebuilding of Oxford Street began in 1956, it was felt that the 40' x 60' panel on the corner of Oxford Street and Holles Street would provide the perfect "opportunity for an artistic magnate, drawing all eyes upwards and telling the world that this is John Lewis". In the early 1960s, the renowned sculptor Barbara Hepworth was commissioned to produce a work of "pure form" for this panel. The result was a larger version of her 'Winged Figure' (1957) in aluminium, which was erected in 1963.

This tradition continued when Lucienne Day, one of the most important British designers of the second half of the 20th century, was asked to produce one of her silk mosaics for the catering area in
John Lewis Kingston when it opened in 1990. 'Aspects of the Sun' has subsequently become a defining image for the branch.

Support from living artists has been an integral part of our design concept in new shops, particularly in customer catering areas, and new shops from Cheadle through to Stratford City have seen distinctive works commissioned for them varying from contemporary artworks and sculptures to mosaics and murals. For artists like Frances Boag and Paul Powis commissions for paintings in the Place to Eat, in Glasgow and Cribbs Causeway respectively, were a turning point in their artistic careers.

The type of art commissioned is influenced by location and the design of the building which forms an important part of its brief, as there needs to be synergy between the two. At Stratford City the double height prow of the building provided an ideal setting for a large 'installation'. In the spring of 2010 a small group of artists were invited to submit their ideas for this space, the brief of which was for a feature piece of art consisting of a series of 'forms', running between the edge of the floors and the full height glazed structure of the prow.

The 3 shortlisted artists were taken to visit the site before submitting their final proposals and maquettes (models). The entry chosen was that of Jamie and Juliet Gutch, a husband and wife team from Yorkshire, whose 12 metre mobile of aluminium and steel, 'An Exaltation of Larks', now fills the space. The couple drew inspiration from the modern materials of the building and the local environment, namely the marshes and the skylarks that live there. A suspended mobile in plain white was the ideal foil for this complex architectural space.

Also in the Place to Eat at Stratford City are a series of montages by the British artist David Ferry. The brief for this commission was to capture the essence of the local community, and Ferry's bold works entitled 'Jewels of the East' bring colour and vitality to this space.

Our commitment to art is really important to us, and by using local themes and artists it helps build a relationship with, and give something back to, the local community that shops with us. We promote art that not only engages, but also has the potential to challenge and promote discussion. Art is often shown in non-public spaces, but in John Lewis it's on display for all to see - we hope that inspires you to seek out other art, not forgetting of course the wide range of pictures and sculptures we stock for your home!