At the interchange we contort ourselves into the mob of people attempting to crush onto the next train, which we know will end up being the one-after-the-one-after-that. A two-minute delay, a minor fault on the line or an inch too much skin-to-skin contact may send you spiralling into an existential crisis flinging abusive tweets at TfL faster than a child flinging a toy out of a pram.
The ordeal over, we spill out of our carriages, ready to be unleashed at street level, and spend shamefully little time appreciating the intricacies and effort that goes into maintaining this complex web of subterranean networks that first came to life in 1863. The arteries of London flow more frequently and cover more of the capital than any other city I have ever visited.
And as for the stations that give us access to this vital source, we seem even more unable to take note: too impatient, too busy, too many social gatherings and too late for that meeting. Londoners, it seems, don’t have the time to spend enjoying the towering metal pillars of Westminster station or the cavernous concrete corridors of Bermondsey. Nor do we look to the artistic offerings at Leystonstone, or discover the labyrinthine complexities of Baker Street.Enter Kinga Markus the artist taking the time to document the spaces in these stations that are so effortlessly ignored by millions each day. Unlike others before her, she is not focusing on the life that flows in and out of these stations. She has decided to avoid the people who use the tube every day, choosing instead to solely document the spaces. “This goes against my norm,” explains Kinga, “I tend to paint and draw people so I have to avoid the temptation of putting them in. This is especially difficult in busy stations like Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus.”
She has embarked on the lengthy task of pottering around London using charcoal to make A3-size etchings of all 270 underground stations. After initiating a Kickstarter campaign in which people can either fund the project or request destinations for Kinga to draw, she met her target fairly promptly. As things stand, she is currently about a quarter of her way through with seventy drawings lining the walls of her Harlesden studio.The idea first came to her when drawing her local station, Kilburn. “It was quite a few years ago now when I did lots of tiny paintings and drawings of the station. People really responded to them, so I decided to do little paintings of the whole underground and then an installation.” After a slight reconfiguration following the realisation that it would, “probably take the rest of my life to complete a station painting project,” she decided to draw a segment of each station using charcoal.
“I want to do the complete run,” she says. “People have been saying, ‘why are you doing that, why don’t you just go and draw?’” Kinga has stood her ground, regarding the whole process as part of her journey. “When I first started,” she says, “they looked quite different, so who knows what they will be like by the time I get to the end? They might be completely abstract, so I want to just keep pushing and weaving my way through to see where this project takes me.”
When Kinga was first drawing Kilburn she fondly remembers sitting in the pub across the road from the station and drawing from there. “All these people kept coming over and telling me tales about their mate who was a tube driver or why they like the station. That was part of why I initially wanted to draw from life, to engage and get people’s stories and make it more interactive. The project is about starting conversations as well, getting people to think and talk about the tube, the stations and the surrounding areas.”The initial idea for Kinga’s project was to draw the facades of each station. “The problem is that some were just really dull and there was just so much more going on inside that I didn’t want to box myself into just doing the entrances to stations.” Having started her project in the winter, she often found that it was too cold and impractical to sit on the road drawing stations – as we found out ourselves when we optimistically bounded over to meet Kinga outside the eight-arched, ox blood-tiled splendour of Chalk Farm station early one Wednesday morning. Despite the summer heatwave, the rain poured down as we retreated to a café in Camden Market.
On account of the unreliable weather, Kinga isn’t always able to draw on site, so takes sketches and photos back to her studio. “This process has actually helped me to reframe how I see things and compile them in a different light.” Seventy drawings down, she is still excited by her project. “It is taking longer than I initially thought,” she says, “I calculated that I would do four a day in the beginning but with all the travelling, drawing and research time that isn’t working out. She remains determined to complete the project in the next couple of months.
“People already introduce me as ‘the tube lady’ – and I am happy to keep that title for a while longer.” Here’s hoping that Kinga’s continued sketching around the city, encourages us frantic commuters to pay a little more attention and spend a bit more time appreciating what is around us.
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