The Elm Tree of Life is a new public art mosaic at Finsbury Park station. Created by artists Carrie Reichardt, Karen Francesca and ATM it stands at the entrance to the new station development. The mosaic incorporates stories from the local area and connects the urban environment to it’s more natural past.
Three years in the making, the intention has always been that as part of the new Finsbury Park station public art would be prominent. Over time it’s size, shape and location has evolved but now the final version sits neatly as part of the build. The Elm Tree of Life is the main focus of the work. Sat against a backdrop of mosaic imbued with local tales.
Putting an elm tree prominently in this busy part of London was something that had particular meaning. It harks back to a forgotten tradition. A time when seven elm trees were planted around a walnut tree by seven sisters. It’s a part of local folklore and one that gives the area of seven sisters its name today. The act of planting is a tradition which has since gone on at various times throughout history.
It’s claimed that the actual tradition of planting seven trees could date back to as long ago as 1350. Why no one knows. Theories stem from suggestions that they were planted as a commemoration following a parting of ways; that they originally denoted a pagan temple even that there was a link to Robert the Bruce who had land in the area. The trees could also very much have been a natural feature which took on a prominence due to their striking appearance and which prompted a legend to grow around them.
Elm Tree of Life
The Elm Tree of Life on the Finsbury Park mosaic acts as a reminder of the past and it’s link with the future. “So pleased to put a young elm into that urban space” said Karen Francesca. It’s a reminder to the viewer of the connection with the natural world. The roots of the tree too tell their own story. Look closely and written within them are the scientific names of all the bugs and creatures which live on an elm tree. “It’s a reminder” says Carrie about the importance of nature and the diversity that something like and elm tree can support.
All three artists working on the project have collaborated with each other for years. Forming the core of the Treatment Rooms collective they have their own roots in community and public art. Branching off into their own areas of expertise they’ve each managed to specialise and hone their individual styles. Karen focusing on environmental art and gardening, ATM developing more as a painter and muralist with Carrie focusing more on ceramics.
“This piece represents our different styles and different looks” explains Carrie about the design of the Elm Tree of Life. ATM produced the draughtsmanship for the tree itself. Karen focused on the patterning and design around the edges. Carrie’s focus was what she describes as the printed archive and tiling which forms the background.
The three artists have worked on many projects before. The best known prior to the Elm Tree of Life though is probably Carrie Reichardt’s own home in Chiswick. The hallmarks of all three artists, amongst others, are interwoven throughout it. The house itself, a suburban home on a leafy street, is famous for being covered from head to toe in mosaic. All of which is packed with symbolism.
Symbolism too is something which is woven throughout the Finsbury Park mosaic. Patterning along the sides of the Elm Tree of Life and in the borders pay homage to the areas rich cultural tapestry. The tree of life itself is based on a tree of life with a Turkish influence. Celtic birds along the top pay tribute to the areas Irish community whilst Islamic inspired shapes and Tunisian print are interwoven in the background. Even the typeface used along the top is a nod to the Finsbury Town Hall. “We hope that people from different places will see something familiar, something that represents them” says Carrie.
Community involvement has also been key. Not only in terms of determining the theme but in choosing the stories which are represented. Along the borders stars created as part of community workshops have been incorporated. Poetry too from people living in the area has been imprinted in the tile. Braille also has been included. Working with the ceramic artist Hex elements of the writing system contain phrases such as ‘you are enough’ within the mosaic.
Nature in the Urban Space
One of the key themes of the mosaic is that of bringing nature back into the urban space. The tree itself is an obvious link to that as are the nods to biodiversity throughout. Scattered across the whole mural too are bees. A visual connection to their importance as part of the ecosystem. Should the bees ever die out our ability to pollinate does too. It’s all part of a wider story which the artwork tries to convey. This is one of respect for our environment and of learning from our past.
It’s an area where the three artists involved in the work are familiar. All have used their work to campaign for causes they believe in. Causes where environmental concerns are often front and centre. Visiting the mosaic for the first time, it was obvious from the amount of interest from passers by, that this is art with a story. It’s a story that tells he social history of Finsbury Park. One that reminds us of our past whilst giving us clues about how we support our future.
The Elm Tree of Life is a mosaic by Carrie Reichardt, ATM and Karen Francesca. It forms part of the Finsbury Park station development and can be found at the junction of Wells Terrace and Clifton Terrace. It opened on 22 October 2020.