The global lockdown period has undoubtedly been a peculiar time for everyone. Despite the challenges, one silver lining has been the abundance of culture accessible online. However, amidst this digital realm, I recently stumbled upon a physical testament to the creativity born during these unprecedented times. As I meandered through the lesser-known backstreets, from the South Bank to Waterloo Station, a remarkable piece of street art caught my eye—an inspiring tribute to the heroes of our time, the NHS.
A Heroic Tribute: The NHS as Superman
Located under the railway bridge connecting Waterloo and Waterloo East, a magnificent mural stood as a tribute to the NHS. Depicting the iconic Superman emblem, this masterpiece was created by Lionel Stanhope, a talented artist with a background in sign writing. Stanhope’s artistic journey has taken him from Elstree Studios and Hollywood to Disneyland, where he painted scenery for various TV shows and films.
Over the past few years, Stanhope has collaborated with Network Rail on multiple projects, primarily designing vintage railway-style signs displayed under bridges. During the lockdown, he approached Network Rail with a request for a bridge wall to paint on, and they granted him this opportunity on Cornwall Street near Waterloo Station. Notably, this location holds significance as it stands in proximity to St Thomas’s Hospital, where countless COVID-19 patients, including the Prime Minister, received critical treatment.
The Creation of a Timeless Tribute
The mural, an awe-inspiring representation of the NHS as Superman, appeared on 1st May, during a time when pedestrian activity in the area was significantly reduced. Working under time pressure, Stanhope completed the artwork in a remarkable five hours. The presence of a photographer capturing a time-lapse of the entire process added an additional sense of urgency and excitement to the creation of this incredible piece.
Stanhope’s dedication to his craft and his ability to capture the spirit of the times is not limited to this one artwork. In Ladywell, south-east London, he has painted a rendition of Caravaggio’s “Supper in Emmaus,” where Jesus is portrayed wearing blue surgical gloves—an imaginative blend of classical art and the current reality. The original masterpiece resides in the National Gallery, which, as one of the first cultural venues to reopen following the easing of lockdown restrictions, continues to inspire visitors with its timeless treasures.
Discovering Art in Unlikely Places
The unexpected encounter with Lionel Stanhope’s tribute to the NHS serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience, strength, and unwavering dedication of our healthcare heroes. Street art, particularly during these challenging times, has the remarkable ability to transcend physical boundaries and touch the hearts of passersby. It reflects the collective spirit of communities coming together to express gratitude and admiration for those who selflessly serve on the front lines.
As lockdown restrictions ease and cultural venues gradually reopen, the intersection of art and reality becomes even more apparent. The blending of traditional masterpieces with contemporary themes creates a tapestry of emotions and reflections, offering us a unique opportunity to contemplate the resilience of the human spirit.
Uncovering Gems in the Urban Landscape
Amidst the uncertainty and turmoil of lockdown, the streets have become a canvas for artistic expression, capturing the essence of our times. The mural under the railway bridge between Waterloo and Waterloo East serves as a testament to the power of creativity, unity, and appreciation. It stands as a beacon of hope and a visual reminder of the heroic efforts of our NHS heroes.
In conclusion, stumbling upon this remarkable street art during my journey through the backstreets was a poignant reminder of the indomitable human spirit and the power of art to inspire and unite. The blend of traditional masterpieces and contemporary themes sparks
Street art is very accessible even in these social distancing times and there is plenty to see on our Essential Street Art tour in Whitechapel and Shoreditch and on tours passing along Bankside.