Wednesday 8 July 2020

After The Fire




Local artist and sculptor, Jonathan O’Dea is set to unveil an impressive two-metre sculpture at The Mall Walthamstow on 22 July 2020 to mark the anniversary of the fire, which swept through the shopping centre a year ago.

At approximately 7.40am on 22 July 2019, a large fire broke out at The Mall. Although there were no fatalities, half of the roof collapsed and the shopping centre sustained extensive damage, which meant that it was unable to reopen until September.

Entitled ‘After the Fire’, the commemorative work of art was crafted from the remains of the blaze and is now displayed near the Town Square entrance of The Mall, near CeX and Sports Direct. Jonathan, who lives just metres from the shopping centre and witnessed the fire from his back garden, used charred wood from the burnt-out roof to produce the sculpture.

During creation of the poignant sculpture, Jonathan filmed himself over a six-week period, beautifully capturing the key stages of development. The time-lapse video is set against a haunting soundtrack, recorded by folk musicians, Michael Walsh and Liz Hanks. 

“It acts as a small window into the creation of art and culture, which often goes unseen by the public,” says Jonathan.

As an artist, Jonathan is well known for his use of recycled building materials. For previous projects, Jonathan gathered materials from the construction of the Olympic Park in East London and the city’s Crossrail Project.

Jonathan explains: “My interest in using recycled materials is connected with my experience of working in the construction industry. The short time I spent working on the Jubilee extension line in the 1990s had a profound impact on me and later shaped my ideas and thinking around art.”

The concept of regeneration – turning something old into something new - resonates throughout Jonathan’s work and this latest project for The Mall, adds to the narrative. It also reflects the culture of his hometown of Walthamstow, which has seen huge changes over the last 15 years. Jonathan reflects on these changes by exploring how regeneration can impact our sense of identity and visual culture. 

“Jonathan is a hugely talented artist and it is wonderful to see something so creative and inspiring come out of the fire. It has been a very difficult year for The Mall Walthamstow, with the devastation of the fire and the impact of Covid-19 but this is a very positive sign that we are moving on and looking ahead to the future,” comments General Manager, Rebecca Bird.

The sculpture will remain on display in the centre and is also available to purchase. Jonathan has generously agreed to donate 50% of his fee to The Mall’s chosen charity, the Retail Trust. Anyone who is interested in purchasing ‘After the Fire’ should contact Jonathan via his website at

Thursday 11 April 2019

In - Out: Exhibition of new artwork by Jonathan O'Dea and Neil Irons

Work by: Jonathan O'Dea
Artists, Jonathan O’Dea has teamed up with fellow artist and friend, Neil Irons to display a series of artwork that explores human’s impact on our environment, both physically and psychologically with an underlying political aspect to it. The artwork ranges in styles and techniques, from painting, drawing and sculpture. The exhibition will form part of the program of events that marks the first London Borough of Culture in Waltham Forest. The London Borough of Culture is supported by the Mayor of London.

Work by: Neil Irons

Binary choices appear to be part of the norm, where in today’s world there feels to be very little room to sit back, stop and think about what the other options could be. In the name of progress time to stop and think is secondary. Part of this binary process encompasses political decision-making, where if tough decisions aren’t made now, with clear and decisive leadership, progress will take a backward step. The need to do things ‘now’ doesn’t give room for choice or options. The pace this progress has taken, especially in East London over the last 20 to 30 years has seen many social and physical changes where we have forgotten what a normal pace of life is. In some ways Jonathan O’Dea and Neil Irons have been part of this change, where, as artists their profession has been become a marketing commodity to help sell East London as up an and coming area. But the one thing about both of these artists, is that their work has always been truly reflective, mindful and sceptical of the impact of these changes from a physical and psychological view. They have remained dedicated to what it really means to be an artist, to sit back, stop and think about what art is really about, and how its informed. There is no binary process to their methods of working, they are truly part of the slow art movement; their work is considered and always timely. There is no thread setting going on here.

Jonathan and Neil’s recent work are reflections on their place in urban London, and how this city has impacted on their sense of identity and creativity. This is reflected in their physical work, which isn’t your run of the mill landscape paintings, or sculpture. Instead you get a raw feeling from their work, were you sense that things aren’t quite right with their world. To add to this, both artists have a very out-ward looking view of the world with a very European aspect to their identity, but yet retaining their sense of personal identity with their respective birthplaces. Jonathan moving to London from rural Ireland in 1987 with his family, and Neil moving from Dundee to London in his early 20’s in the same year.

However, recent binary choices such as the referendum on Europe, to be ether to be In or Out, has brought political decision making into question. This binary choice has only exposed a long festering wound were people have for some time questioned their place in their wider environment which has now taken the form of Brexit. This binary issue is clearly reflected in Jonathan’s and Neil’s work where it explores the idea of 2 worlds in which you feel you have to either choose to be in one place or the other. Very much like how the regeneration of East London has forced people to make a stark choice, either be part of something or just disappear. However this binary process does not always provide you with options to choose; you are left floating between two worlds. Something that is very apparent in Jonathan and Neil’s recent work.

Thursday 1 March 2018

St Mary's Bell

New sculpture produced to help fund-raise for the restoration of St Mary’s Church in Walthamstow Village, East London

For my newest piece, I have taken materials from the restoration work at St Mary’s to create a work reflecting on the idea of a bell tower. A clapper forms the centrepiece, while the supporting frame is created from the wheels that once turned the bells. Old pulling ropes are incorporated to provide a visual reminder of the bell ringers and the sound of peals over the village.

This is an exciting time for St Mary’s as it sets out to become a new venue for arts and culture. The aim is to sell the artwork to raise money for the restoration of other parts of St Mary’s bell tower. 

The sculpture certainly provides a fitting celebration of the history of St Mary’s as it sets out on a new chapter of its history in the centre of Walthamstow Village. 

Friday 13 October 2017

Going Underground: Art that explores the development of Crossrail

The location for North Greenwich Station

Abstract Art and Engineering

In the summer of 1996 I had a summer job on the Jubilee Extension Line doing general manual work. I don’t think I fully realise then what I was working on in relation to the scale and ambition of the project. At the time it was probably one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the UK. I just viewed it as another summer job to get by before heading of to University.

Groundwork at North Greenwich Station

On the Extension Line I was part of a gang of men laying the miles and miles of cables that powered the tube lines from Stratford to North Greenwich. Although most of the stations were near completion by the time I arrived on site, North Greenwich Station was still a hole in the ground, leading down into the vast openness to where the new platforms were located. There was no physical station above ground at this stage so temporary stairs constructed from scaffolding poles and boards made access to the platforms and tunnels.

As you started to descend, the magnificence of the space and its engineering was clearly on display partly down to the fact that the wall panels had not been installed at this point. I could see the rawness of the materials which was used in the construct of the shaft leading down onto the platforms, and from there into the tunnels. You could see the steel and concrete lining which stopped the tons of London clay from collapsing into the shaft and tunnels. I could see every nut and bolt that held everything into place, and every cable of every size that powered every machine and piece of equipment. Below my feet on the temporary stairs I could see the service locomotives moving in and out with materials and equipment; one of which was ours, used to carry the copper power cable to be rolled out along the walls of the tunnels. Working with the cable pulling gang meant I was able to walk the newly constructed tunnels that went under the Thames River.

Although there was a good 20 years between the completion of the Jubilee Extension and the start of Crossrail those memories are still clear in my head. So when it was announced that Crossrail was finally going ahead, this got me a bit excited. I thought this could be my opportunity to use my experience on the Jubilee Extension Line to explore new ideas for artwork around Crossrail. I used my networks and contacts ( and within a couple of weeks I was able to get some surplus materials, distant for the scrap yard. In addition I was given a short tour of one of the sites used to construct the Crossrail Tunnel in East London. This gave me an insight into aspects of the engineering methods and materials used in its construction.
Some of the surplus materials used in the construction of Crossrail
Once I had the materials back in my studio I didn’t really have a clear idea in how I was going to set about creating a sculpture/sculptures. But the one thing I did have in mind was that I wanted to create something that wasn’t my typical format (which was a wall mounted sculptures).  It had to be freestanding, and reflect the aesthetics of the engineering of the tunnels of Crossrail. Because the materials I got from Crossrail , 36 cm long galvanized screw bolts and wood for shuttering were finite I had to develop an idea that utilised what I had at hand. I assembled different shaped and sized wood sections to create the lower part of the sculpture. Once the substructure was made I began to carve into it in order to create an organic feel, and a sense of movement.

Me caving the lower part of the sculpture
The 36 cm bolts were interesting objects to play around with, to physically try and bring the bolts to together to create the form I wanted? As the plinth was now very organic in shape, I wanted to continue this feel with the construction of the bolts.

The beginnings of the substructure

Experimenting with the 36 cm bolts
One of the technical issues I was starting to understand from the outset was the issue of physics. Because each bolt was quite heavy I had to keep in my mind literally the balance between, height, angle and area, to ensure the final artwork was well constructed and stayed upright. Because I didn’t want to create a sculpture that was straight up and down, but something that came swooping out at an angle to create that organic feel, I had to implement an element of physics and engineering. Apart from the materials I was using, this is were the engineering of Crossrail and my art started to really come together. The engineering term, cantilever was never far from my mind when constructing the sculpture.

Although the final artwork could be described as abstract in form, every aspect of it was planned and considered. The materials didn’t necessarily allow you to make to many happy mistakes because of the technical requirements of making it physically stay up and secure. It was also important to create something that was clearly artistic rather than something that was purely engineered.

Although I approached this project as a bit of an experiment, by the end of the process I managed too achieve something more than that. I managed to create a freestanding sculpture that incorporated many technical skills, combining engineering and art into a single piece of artwork. Aesthetically the sculpture works were it manages to celebrate the materials and its connection to one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Europe, Crossrail. With this sculpture completed I am now looking forward to producing my next series of sculptures using materials from Crossrail.

View of the final sculpture
I would like to say thanks to Brendan Morahan and Tim Fitch from Invennt who were a great support to me on this project.

After The Fire