Created by artist Gordon Young, and designed in collaboration with Why Not Associates, the Comedy Carpet is a celebration of comedy on an extraordinary scale. Referring to the work of more than 1,000 comedians and comedy writers, the carpet gives visual form to jokes, songs and catchphrases dating from the early days of variety to the present. Sited in front of Blackpool Tower, the 2,200m2 work of art contains over 160,000 granite letters embedded into concrete, pushing the boundaries of public art and typography to their limits.
A remarkable homage to those who have made the nation laugh, it’s also a stage for popular entertainment that celebrates entertainment itself.
The £2.6m Comedy Carpet was commissioned by Blackpool Council as part of the multi-million pound regeneration of the sea front including vital sea defence works. It was funded by CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) as part of it’s Sea Change programme.
Blackpool holds a unique place in the affections of generations of British holiday-makers and fun-seekers. As well as its sandy beaches, piers, amusement parks and pleasure beaches, it has many extraordinary buildings devoted to entertainment and show business, including the Grand Theatre, the Winter Gardens and the Blackpool Tower. Connecting these places together is the promenade known as the Golden Mile which stretches the length of the town.
As part of the council’s plans to regenerate the town and carry out necessary sea defence works, the entire length has been re-landscaped and three new headlands built. Created as a key work of art for the central headland, the Comedy Carpet will also be a stage for performances and events.
Designed in a cross shape, the carpet links the entrance of the Blackpool Tower to the beach and connects the north and south sides of the promenade. Laid out in a grid pattern in strips of 10 slabs each, the work can be read in different directions, from close up and from the top of the tower, with the font varying in size from a few centimetres to over a metre.
When commissioned to make a work for the new headland, Young was initially inspired by the inside of the Blackpool Tower with its fantasy Viennese Baroque ballroom and Arabesque circus and wanted to bring “this quality and ‘over-the-top ness’ out of doors. The new art work also had to make a visual impact amongst the heady mix of architectural features on Blackpool’s Promenade. But why comedy and why a carpet?
“Comedy in all its guises is a big part of who we are; it has its own social history and a very important place in that history is Blackpool’ says Young. ‘I’d been looking at photographs of stars and the Blackpool Tower was a reoccurring backdrop to the photos – Eric and Ernie in deck chairs, Ken Dodd, Les Dawson. It soon became obvious that Blackpool had been a magnetic chuckle point for the nation, the sheer breadth of comedians who had performed in the town over the decades is amazing!”
At first sight, the Comedy Carpet looks as if the text is painted. In fact, each of the 160,000 letters is made of 30mm solid granite cast into high-quality concrete panels. Given the unusualness of the project, its complexity and scale, no one company was able to produce the work in its entirety so Gordon had the challenge of producing the work in-house.
With the assistance of artists/makers Russ Coleman and Andy Sawyer, Gordon turned a former fish processing factory in Hull into a bespoke studio, and recruited and managed a production team to make it. After several months of research, with input from chemists and engineers, the Comedy Carpet team evolved new techniques and recipes for production including a special white face mix and the perfect blue that wouldn’t fade. They searched far and wide to find materials of the exact quality and consistency; from India, they sourced black and red granite; from China, stainless steel.
Although constructed on an industrial scale and making use of new technology, the work also required craft skills of a very high standard. The process of making each of the 320 slabs involved many complex stages from cutting, sorting, fettling and laying out each of the letters to a three-stage casting process, curing, trimming, grinding and polishing.
Each slab is a work of art in itself; multiplied by 320, it takes the project to an altogether different level.