A city made of colour – ‘Spectrum of Brick Lane 2’ (2007) by David Batchelor

Spectrum of Brick Lane 2 (2007) is a sculpture by David Batchelor, the ‘chromophiliac’ Scottish artist and author. This work reflects Batchelor’s long-standing fascination with colour. Located in the Blavatnik Building concourse in Tate Modern, it enlivens this otherwise empty space.

Spectrum of Brick Lane 2 by David Batchelor (2007. Lightboxes, steel shelving, acrylic sheet, fluorescent lights, cable and plug boards © David Batchelor, purchased by Tate in 2009, photo: Ground Impressions)
Spectrum of Brick Lane 2 by David Batchelor (detail) (photo: Ground Impressions)

Batchelor turned to colour in the nineties reacting against the perceived monopoly of black-and-white art of that time. Stepping away from his own ‘colourless’ art, he began creating colourful 2D and 3D works. [1] The most spectacular of his creations are the large-scale illuminated installations inspired by shop signs.

The title of this work suggests that it should be read as an urban landscape. It contrasts quite strongly with the display in the gallery right next door – Living cities which features a large number of monochromatic and black-and-white works. There are cities made of steel, leather and even couscous!

view of the display ‘Living cities’ at Tate Modern (photo: Ground Impressions)

Art photographers who specialise in urban landscapes often opt for black-and-white images in search for a more artistic effect. For Batchelor, on the contrary, colour is the essence of the urban environment. He draws his inspiration from night cityscapes with their street lamps, car lights and, most importantly, neon signs. The artist prefers ‘urban’ colours, industrial paints and fluorescent lights to the colours found in nature. [1]

Spectrum of Brick Lane 2 is named after an East London street. Brick Lane becomes a vertical tower of rectangular neon boxes. Bright and radiating with colours on one side, grey on the reverse, this work symbolises the contradictory character of the city, according to the artist. [2]

As the artist reminds us, colours can only be perceived in the presence of light. [1] Stained glass windows are best viewed on a sunny day, while the electric light bringing Batchelor’s sculptures to life has to be constantly switched on. What both types of art have in common is their ability to fill the space with colour in a way that traditional painting rarely does.

*David Batchelor is the author of Chromophobia, published in 2000 by Reaktion Books, hence the term ‘chromophiliac’.



[1] https://henitalks.com/talks/david-batchelor-colour/ interesting HENI Talk by the artist

[2] https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/david-batchelor-4915/david-batchelor-studio-visit here you can watch David Batchelor talking about Spectrum of Brick Lane 2

For more information about the artist and more videos see:


David Batchelor’s website: http://www.davidbatchelor.co.uk/

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