Group of sculpted figures among dune grass
Art,  England,  Photographing Public Art

The Conversation Piece and the Eye

Some sculptures are all the better for being in just the right place; think of the Angel of the North or Statue of Liberty, for example. And in its own less dramatic way that is true of the Conversation Piece.

This group of 22 figures are dotted around a paved area near the sea at the north end of Littlehaven Beach in South Shields in the north east of England. They could be locals stopping briefly in their daily routine to gossip, or holiday-makers meeting for the first time perhaps. With the dunes as backdrop they make for a striking piece.

The figures are of bronze; they were created by Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz, who has created similar pieces elsewhere (the ‘Last Conversation Piece’ in Washington DC, for example). Their rounded bases mean that locals sometimes refer to them affectionately as the ‘Weebles’ or simply ‘the wobbly men’. They are for obvious reasons a popular spot for photos and children in particular seem to love to pose with, or try to climb on, the figures. It took some patience for me to get these people-free images to share for the Photographing Public Art challenge.

The Eye

Eye-shaped pale stone sculpture with central hole
Tynemouth Priory framed in the Eye

Nearby is this eye-catching (pun intended!) sculpture by Stephen Broadbent. It is a popular spot for photos as people like to pose with the eye as a frame. But I preferred using it to frame the view beyond of the beach, the sea and Tynemouth Priory across the river. Around the ‘iris’ are the words: ‘but my eye could not see it, wherever might be it, the barque that is bearing my lover to me’.

Eye-shaped pale stone sculpture with central hole
The beach and Tynemouth Pier framed in the Eye

The quotation comes from a traditional Northumbrian ballad, ‘Blow the wind southerly’. The full lyrics are:

‘Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow the wind south for the bonny blue sea.
Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow, bonny breeze, my lover to me.

They told me last night there were ships in the offing,
And I hurried down to the deep rolling sea.
But my eye could not see it, wherever might be it,
The barque that is bearing my lover to me.

Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow, bonny breeze, o'er the bonny blue sea.
Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow, bonny breeze, and bring him to me.

Is it not sweet to hear the breeze singing,
As lightly it calms o'er the deep rolling sea?
But sweeter and dearer by far when 'tis bringing
The barque of my true love in safely to me!’

I have visited South Shields a number of times; these photos were taken in 2015

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