The making of the Barrowland Park album pathway

Arranged like records on a shelf, artist Jim Lambie’s ‘album pathway’ in Glasgow lists the names and dates of thousands of bands that have played the city’s famous Barrowlands venue since 1983. Russ Coleman, the sculptor who worked on the Comedy Carpet in Blackpool, tells us how he turned his hand to coloured concrete

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Jim Lambie, Untitled 2014, coloured concrete, 103m x 3m. Public Artwork in Barrowland Park, Glasgow. Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow. Commissioned as part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme. Photo: Stephen Hosey

Arranged like records on a shelf, artist Jim Lambie‘s ‘album pathway’ in Glasgow lists the names and dates of thousands of bands that have played the city’s famous Barrowlands venue since 1983. Russ Coleman, the sculptor who worked on the Comedy Carpet in Blackpool, tells us how he turned his hand to coloured concrete…

Unveiled in the new Barrowland Park, a ‘temporary urban greenspace’ opposite the venue, Lambie’s 100 metre long walkway cites 2,000 appearances by a range of international musicians. The artist has described the work as a homage to the famous venue and the nearby Barras market where he would often scour for records.

Commissioned as part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme, the pathway was developed by The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd with Lambie and landscape designer, Greg White (LOCI Design).

Jim Lambie, Untitled 2014, coloured concrete, 103m x 3m. Public Artwork in Barrowland Park, Glasgow. Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow. Photo: Stephen Hosey

Made from coloured concrete, the path – as with Gordon Young and Why Not Associates‘ expansive Comedy Carpet – contains thousands of individually made glyphs created by Coleman in his North Shields workshop. For the Barrowland Park project, Coleman worked with graphic designer and art director Kirk Teasdale to realise Lambie’s original idea – their part of the process taking just twenty weeks to complete, in time for the Commonwealth Games.

Coleman has an interesting back story. Originally a ‘monumental’ mason and hand letter-carver, he trained in bricklaying and construction, later enrolling at art school to study sculpture. His approach to type involves thinking of it “in the wild – as physical objects,” he says, and his recent work has combined these more traditional methods with new technologies; from water jet-cutting machines to digital software.

Jim Lambie, Untitled 2014, coloured concrete, 103m x 3m. Public Artwork in Barrowland Park, Glasgow. Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow. Photo: Stephen Hosey

“The Comedy Carpet was the culminaton of a year’s work with Gordon and Why Not Associates,” says Coleman, “and I developed techniques on that which afterwards I’d thought would be end of the road, really, with granite and concrete type. With the Carpet, this was type as solid objects that needed arranging in a particular way – the water-cutting maching unleashed a whole new world.”

In 2013, Greg White, the landscape designer working on the Barrowland Park project was describing the pathway project to a friend who then directed him to the Comedy Carpet. White tracked down Coleman as a potential fabricator for the new pathway in Glasgow and Lambie’s art production company Voidoid then contacted him about the idea – with one aspect of the proposal standing out in particular.

“What interested me was the colour,” says Coleman, “because I have this long-term thing called the Concrete Foundation where its mission is to alter people’s perceptions of concrete – to see it as ultimately flexible, as there are a thousand ways of using it. So this was a ‘polychrome’ approach to concrete. I’d Googled Jim’s work and thought, ‘that’d be great to work on’.”

Jim Lambie, Untitled 2014, coloured concrete, 103m x 3m. Public Artwork in Barrowland Park, Glasgow. Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow. Photo: Stephen Hosey

The practicalities of working in coloured concrete, however, are a little more complicated. Coleman explains: “Using colour and concrete had obvious parameters: it’s cement-based and alkaline; [the pathway] would be outdoors so would have to be UV stable as well. And there are only certain kinds of pigments [you can use] such as metal oxides – that’s excluding organic and chemical pigments.

“Most of the coloured parts in the work are oxides of cobalt, titanium, iron and so on. Some of the colours, like the lilac and the turquoise, are very new colours that have only been developed in the last two years.” These particular colours are also very expensive to produce. Ordinary pigments are around the £2 or £3 a kilo mark, while the turquoise, says Coleman, might come in at £60 or £70 for the same amount.

Coleman also cast many of the fonts used in the pathway, as opposed to cutting them out with the water jet (the latter allows more flexibility in that the fonts to be cut at any size). “There was some old traditional stuff in casting certain fonts such as Bryant, which has a rounded edge without any serifs and is easy to do,” he says. “Whereas Optima or Baskerville are difficult to cast, you can’t remould them as easily, they’re too delicate to handle, particularly as there’s a brittleness to concrete. Locked into the surrounding concrete though they’re very strong.”

The project used used nine fonts in 14 colours which made for a total of 126 possible combinations – and a mammoth twenty-two thousand separate glyphs.

“Normally, you might design something on the computer, then someone cuts it out,” says Coleman. “But here, from start to finish, there were around 50 different processes, lots of checks and balances. For one, you have to arrange the letters upside-down and back-to-front and then cover them in concrete. It goes from 2D to 3D, then back to 2D again. It’s almost like creating chaos.”

Teasdale says the team made templates of the path as though it had been flipped over in the workshop. “We used tape to stick the letterforms on the templates wrong way round,” he says, “and then poured coloured concrete over them, which made the stripes.”

“It was about designing processes and procedures to achieve what the artist wanted, their vision,” says Coleman. “It needed to look like the spines of records; like you were walking along a collection.”

Coleman, who talks animatedly about the properties of concrete, points out that it was in the process of turning a PDF of type into physical lettering that then allowed other elements to come out. “In the workshop it becomes something else, it’s not the precious thing on paper – but the ‘process’ dictates another thing. And that’s the hit of the real type that’s bigger than on the page. It has its own life.”

Even when put in place and cleaned of all the dust, the path was transformed once again. “We used a clear crystal quartz as an aggregate,” says Coleman, “so when you cut through – they act like mini prisms.”

Below are a series of close-up images by Teasdale showing the process take shape; followed by shots of the path as it was installed and cleaned up. CR’s next edition of Monograph will feature a range of images from the project.

The ‘album pathway’ forms part of the new greenspace near the Barrowland’s Ballroom in Glasgow – bounded by Gallowgate, London Road and Moir Street. More of Jim Lambie’s work is at themoderninstitute.com; while a selection of Russ Coleman’s projects can be seen at russcoleman.com.

Jim Lambie, Untitled 2014, coloured concrete, 103m x 3m. Public Artwork in Barrowland Park, Glasgow. Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow. Photo: Stephen Hosey

  • completely amazing and brilliant idea and executive. bravo, bravo, bravo

  • Bob like a concrete foundation

    I like it, good idea and well executed. Shame its temporary as I can’t see myself getting to Glasgow anytime soon.

    Loved the Comedy Carpet too, which was impressive enough in the pages of CR, much more impressive in real life. If anyone’s near Blackpool this summer I’d urge you to check it out – its right in front of the Tower. You can’t miss it.

    I love the idea that someone started a Concrete Foundation too (nice name). Somebody give Russ Coleman some type of award!

  • P.O.D.

  • Such a shame it’s only temporary considering all the work that went into it. Will it be relocated afterwards or just destroyed?

  • christy moore

    “Come All You Dreamers, hear the sound of The Barras hummin…Come all you Dreamers to Barrowland”

  • Decimal

    Council are already planning to close the park according to A Thousand Flowers website. Apparently they’ll move the pathway but no details about where or when. Such a shame as it really brightens up that part of town.

  • Eukadanz

    Save the pathway!