Lucy Sparrow | Bourdon Street Chemist

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19th April – 8th May 2021 Lyndsey Ingram 20 Bourdon Street London W1K 3PL T. +44 (0)20 7629 8849 E. W.


Foreword ly n d s e y i n g r a m

In the spring of 2021, my usually serene gallery at 20 Bourdon Street was transformed into the Bourdon Street Chemist – a joyful visual cacophony of felt pharmaceuticals by artist Lucy Sparrow. Lucy had been working on the concept of a felt chemist and the NFS (National Felt Service) for several years. Having been twice postponed by the pandemic, it was sheer serendipity that the project was finally realised just as London was coming out of the darkest days of lockdown. The health crisis caused by COVID created a heightened sense of gratitude for the NHS and for our local chemists, adding a poignant relevance to the project that we could have never predicted. Bourdon Street Chemist existed for only three weeks (19th April – 8th May) and from the moment it opened, a steady stream of shoppers came each day to buy the individual items, over 10,000 different brand name pharmaceuticals, all lovingly hand made in felt. We just about managed to keep it looking full, though anyone who came in search of popular items like Durex condoms or Blackcurrant Lemsip found that we were long sold out. The chemist was a living thing and impossible to permanently capture, but it is my hope that this book will act a record of the event. We have included installation views of the space and dozens of Polaroids, mostly taken by Lucy over the duration of the show. There is also an insightful essay by Louisa Buck, giving a broader artistic context for Lucy’s work. This was an enormous undertaking and would not have been possible without the efforts of many people, all of whom I am 8

very grateful to. Jo Brooks and Clare Croome work closely with Lucy and their wisdom, humour, and hard work were absolutely essential in realising this project. Lucy’s small team gave endless hours organising and supporting us from the studio, NFS headquarters. My colleagues at the gallery, Charlotte McGuinnes and Amy Graham, graciously allowed their office to be commandeered and worked tirelessly to keep the gallery running smoothly. Jamie George and Sarah MacDonald managed, with apparent ease, to get the show installed and later returned the gallery to its original state. Ali Maclean, Jon Collins, and Wasim Anwar worked every day managing the long lines of visitors and facilitating all the necessary hand sanitising, mask wearing, and temperature taking. Several friends and colleagues worked as ‘trainee-chemists’, kindly giving their time stocking shelves and writing prescriptions. Of course, the most essential person is the artist herself, to whom I will be forever grateful. This was the first time Lucy staged one of her immersive installations in a commercial art gallery and I am honoured that she chose to work with us. Lucy’s creativity is boundless, genuine, and all-consuming. In everything she does, she is relentlessly committed to realising her unique artistic vision and creating her fabulous felt world.


Introduction louisa buck

Just a few days after the easing of London’s third COVID lockdown a small shop appeared on a Mayfair side street. Bourdon Street Chemist seemed to be the genuine article, with a frontage emblazoned with pharmacy green crosses, an illuminated neon ‘Prescriptions’ sign and a window display of cosmetic and medical products. So familiar were all the logos and packaging that it wasn’t immediately evident that the blue and white signage in fact read NFS, not NHS, and that the contours of the merchandise were softened and their surfaces slightly fuzzy. In fact Bourdon Street Chemist was the first fully realised manifestation of Lucy Sparrow’s National Felt Service (NFS) and inside offered an engulfing abundance of the massed goods that you’d expect from any well-stocked pharmacy, but all entirely fashioned from felt. On floor to ceiling felt covered shelves and organised in labelled sections spelt out in appliqued felt were massed replicas of everything from condoms and cold remedies to cotton wool buds, all painstakingly hand made with their names and logos meticulously reproduced in soft fabric. Sparrow describes felt as “cheap and cheerful” but while she relishes the humble anti-monumental qualities of her chosen material, she doesn’t want its playful childlike qualities to detract from the seriousness of her artistic endeavour. The epic effort involved in translating every minute detail of an entire store into more than 15000 stitched felt objects is a feat both heroic and absurd. She’s done it before with a Soho Sex shop, an East London corner store and a New York Bodega and in each case this 12

mammoth task undertaken using this most mundane of mediums encapsulates both the humour and the deep dedication that underpins her work. It took over two years for Sparrow and her team of helpers to complete what she describes as “a labour of love” with the artist overseeing every detail and personally painting every product label herself. For visitors, being immersed in the physical evidence of this obsessive activity was both intense and overwhelming, an experience rendered all the more powerful by the way in which the matted surfaces of felt simultaneously muffled sound whilst amplifying colour. But Bourdon Street Chemist was more than a striking act of trompe l’oeil. The shelves of Sparrow’s pharmacy had also been stacked according to a keen aesthetic eye. While many big name brands were in evidence – from Colgate toothpaste, Gilette Razors and Pampers nappies to the various types of Tampax tampons – each item had been specifically selected not only for its relevance but also on the strength of its visual impact and the suitability of its packaging to be translated into felt. If Sparrow didn’t feel that a product’s image was strong enough, then it didn’t make the cut. This exacting eye for detail gave the whole installation both its sense of authenticity as well as its formal punch. Sparrow is also well aware of the emotive power of felt. Not only is it resolutely un-grandiose, felt is also an ancient textile, dating back to prehistoric Central Asia and featuring in Sumerian legend which claims the secret of its production was discovered by the mythical warrior Urnamman of Lagash. Rich in associations, social, cultural and art historical, felt was apparently used by the Christian Saints Clement and Christopher to protect their feet, while in the 1960’s this dense absorbent fabric featured prominently in the work of both Robert Morris and Joseph Beuys. Entering Sparrow’s soft, stifling environment lined with familiar medicinal products fashioned entirely from a fabric most of us hadn’t encountered since childhood was a psychologically-charged experience, and one that was not always entirely soothing. But any comforting memories of innocent play and early craft activities were also complicated by the incongruously adult connotations of many of the goods on display such as the many different varieties of felt Condoms, female sanitary products or massed packets of spermicidal cream. 14

Such disconcertingly mixed messages were made especially explicit by the wide range of facsimile drugs stacked behind the Prescriptions counter including Tramadol, Prozac and Viagra. Not something usually to be found in soft play areas. Alongside the Prescription counter was a waiting area with seating and a monitor showing a series of darkly upbeat, tongue in cheek filmed commercials, emphasising the less curative aspects of much adult medication, and often featuring the artist herself. There were short plugs for Sparrow’s felt versions of Viagra (“with age comes responsibility”); Prozac (“may cause anxiety, depression, feeling numb, blindness, heart attacks and death” and Immodium anti diarrhea tablets (“side effects may include dizziness, constipation heart palpitations, fainting and death.”) The fact that medicines can kill as well as cure was further underlined by a densely packed array of poisonous potions ancient and modern – from Snake Oil to Cyanide and Laudanum – adjacent to the main store window. But rendered in cosy, squashy felt these containers bearing lethal names lost much of their toxicity. Sparrow’s medical and cosmetic goods may be very different in appearance to the use of the fabric in the work of Joseph Beuys, but both her vivid playful objects and Beuys’ sombre grey suits and bolts of felt each deliberately play with and off the idea of nurture. For Beuys the insulating properties of felt were integral to the meaning of his work and he intended this concept of warmth to extend beyond the material qualities of felt to encompass what he described as, “spiritual warmth or the beginning of an evolution.” Although Sparrow has long been fascinated by the products, packaging and the order represented by the retail environment she regards the chemist as a special place which offers a different level of care and intimacy to that of a usual high street shop. For many, the trusting relationship between pharmacist and customer can be as important as that of a patient and a doctor – or a therapist. At no time was this curative role of the chemist more crucial than during the year leading up to the opening of Bourdon Street Chemist in April 2021 when among the most major and unsung heroes of the pandemic were the behind-the-counter pharmacists. When Doctor’s surgeries closed and medical consultancies went on line, chemists remained open for business and offered face-to-face health advice. Although Bourdon Street Chemist was 15


conceived pre-pandemic, after some serious consideration Sparrow decided to go ahead with the project, believing that COVID gave it extra relevance as a tender tribute to the fragility of our bodies as well as the importance of care and human interaction and the invaluable social as well as fiscal role of the small shop. To this end it was especially important that throughout the three week run of Bourdon Street Chemist, Sparrow herself was in situ every day. Wearing a white coat she presided over and served in the shop, most often behind the Prescriptions counter where she offered medical advice and dispensed NFS prescriptions as receipts.“ It’s very important that the work is about embracing care and appreciating the importance of addressing mental as well as physical health” she said at the time. “And if it means presenting a chemist in felt to make people realise how important these things are, then that’s a service I’m very happy to provide.” Along with Beuys’s mythologising of felt, and Morris’s investigation of the fabric’s aesthetic qualities, Sparrow is also well aware of the other art historical precedents to her Bourdon Pharmacy. As a teenager she was lent a book of Claes Oldenburg’s work and as well as his soft sculpture, a major influence was also Oldenburg’s opening of his East Village shopfront studio in Manhattan as The Store, out of which he sold his painted plaster and chicken wire sculptural replicas of everyday goods. Sparrow also declares herself to be an admirer of Damien Hirst’s frequent use of pharmaceutical goods, from his earliest glass fronted cabinets stacked with packaged medicines to the 1992 Pharmacy, a room sized installation representing a chemist shop, and culminating in the Pharmacy restaurant and bar with its pharmaceutical-styled interior that he opened in London between 1998 – 2003. Both Sparrow and Hirst do not flinch from embracing the mundane, the overlooked and the everyday to make profound observations about the way that we function as humans in an increasingly problematic world. So inside the muffled, vivid, multi referential interior of the Bourdon Street Chemist it also seemed especially appropriate to remember that the word ‘felt’ is also the past tense of the verb ‘to feel.’ 17
























Selection of felt posters, various sizes 44

























Selection of felt greetings cards, each 25 × 10 × 0.5 cm 72

Selection of felt pamphlets, each 25 × 10 × 0.5 cm 73

























Lucy Sparrow is one of the most exciting

In May 2017, Sparrow undertook her

and original contemporary artists working

first solo show in the US, opening The

in the UK today. Her practice is quirky yet

Convenience Store, a New York bodega

subversive, luring the viewer in with her

stocked with 9,000 felted artworks. The

tactile, colourful felt creations which belie

bodega dominated the NYC art scene,

hard-hitting subjects including the demise

appearing everywhere from the New

of the traditional high street and the frag-

York Times to screens on Times Square.

mentation of community.

Returning to the US in August 2018, Sparrow opened Sparrow Mart, a fully-felted

Sparrow took the art world by storm in the

supermarket in Downtown Los Angeles,

summer of 2014 with the opening of her

comprising 31,000 hand-painted works.

fully-stocked felt Cornershop in London’s East End. With queues around the block

December 2018 saw Sparrow’s work

and wall-to-wall media coverage, it was

unveiled in the windows of the Hermés

both a commercial and critical success.

flagship store on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. Triple Art Bypass made headlines

The Warmongery, a controversial sell-out

at Miami Art Week, an installation piece

installation exploring issues around

that involved the artist performing ‘live’

gun control and mental health followed

surgery to crowds at Context Art Fair.

in May 2015. In October 2015, Madame Roxy’s Erotic Emporium opened its doors

In 2019, Sparrow created the cover

in the back streets of London’s Soho, rec-

artwork for the spring issue of Juxtapoz

reating an entire sex shop in felt, includ-

magazine and opened her debut museum

ing a fully-working, animated felt peep

exhibition Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Imaginarium

show. In 2016, the BBC commissioned

at M Woods in Beijing, China. Meanwhile,

Sparrow to recreate the Crown Jewels in

Rockefeller Centre in NYC played host to

felt, to celebrate HRH The Queen’s official

Lucy’s on 6th, a fully-stocked felt deli and

90th birthday.

immersive art experience.


Solo Exhibitions


Shoplifting, Lawrence Alkin Gallery,

Bourdon Street Chemist, Lyndsey Ingram,



SCOPE, Basel Art Car Boot Fair, London


The One Show, BBC London

Lucy’s Delicatessen, Rockefeller Center,

Le Sex Shop Feutré, Station 16 Gallery,

New York


Lucy Sparrow’s History Of Art, MWOODS Museum, Beijing



Madame Roxy’s Erotic Emporium,

Triple Art Bypass, Context Art Fair, Miami


Lucy Sparrow X Hermés, Beverly Hills

The Warmongery, London

Sparrow Mart, Downtown Los Angeles 2014 2017 SCOPE, Miami Selfridges, A Gift for London Christmas Alice + Olivia, New York Fashion Week The Convenience Store, Manhattan, New York 2016 Bacardi & Swizz Beatz presents No Commission, London SCOPE, Miami Juxtapoz x Superflat, Vancouver Art Gallery 100

The Cornershop, London

Published by Lyndsey Ingram 20 Bourdon Street London W1K 3PL T. +44 (0)20 7629 8849 E. W.

© 2022 Lyndsey Ingram Text © 2022 Louisa Buck Picture credits: Install photography by Lucy Emms All images © 2022 Lucy Sparrow All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Lyndsey Ingram. Designed by Lucy Harbut Printed by Dayfold