Commissioned by Blackpool Council and created by artist Gordon Young, the Comedy Carpet was something I'd been longing to see. With my youngest sibling a resident of Blackpool, I leapt at the chance to sneak off to the town for an overnight stay on her sofa, from which you can see the glittering tower at all hours of the day and night. With a Saturday afternoon to kill by myself, I finally got the chance to walk around the Carpet, the largest piece of public art ever commissioned.
Why Not Associates designed the 2200 square feet of typography, which uses 160,000 individually cut letters showcasing the words of 850 comedians and writers. All those figures don't mean a lot, though, till you stand in the shadow of the tower at one corner of this massive and lovely artwork, and wander around it. I would like to have been laughing more at the jokes, but I couldn't get past the size and complexity of the piece, thinking about the five years it took to make and the scale of it.
While I was there, people rode their bikes on it, sat on it, ate their chips on it, read it, laughed at the jokes, drank coffee while sitting on it, photographed it - sometimes arranging themselves around the phrases as if they were saying them - or just perched on the surrounding benches, watching the sea from over the cool, smooth stone and concrete. The wind was a bit fresh, and the sky grumbly, but it didn't seems to put off any of these hard Lancastrians and their even more determined visitors.
It is one of the most impressive pieces of art I have ever seen, public or otherwise. Prettiness or scale I enjoy, but because I'm knocked for six by anything which merges art and engineering to spectacular effect, and because this is also a breathtakingly big dose of beautifully-set type, it beats anything I've seen before. Along with my Blackpudlian nephew who's due to fanfare his way into existence any time now, it will be right there for anybody to walk, ride, lie or eat chips on for many decades for come.
Inspired by months of research on traditional comedy print, posters and bill matter and their typefaces, along with absorption in the glittery typographic joy of Blackpool itself, each individual slab was designed separately.
The website (or the book you can buy about it from Blackpool) explains in juicy detail how the carpet was made. But in a nutshell, the letters were but individually and typeset just like metal or wooden type - along lines, and carefully set with punctuation and decoration. Then, a specially-formulated mix of bright white and hardwearing concrete was poured around it, then polished and buffed to a supernaturally smooth finish. The process looks completely absorbing (these pictures borrowed from the Comedy Carpet website).
The carpet under construction:
The carpet finished, from the very top of the Tower:
Phew. It's exhausting. Only fat, salt and mustard can possibly aid my recovery...