It's been a good six or seven years since Lucy Sparrow painstakingly stocked an entire corner shop in Bethnal Green with 4,000 hand-sewn felt replicas of some of our favourite products, from magazines and sweets to ketchup and ice lollies.
Now the British artist is back with The Bourdon Street Chemist in London, her seventh major installation and her first in the UK after four years of exhibiting her faux-reality felt worlds in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Beijing.
With the same research and attention to detail that we've come to expect from Sparrow, the walls of the Lyndsey Ingram Gallery have been transformed into a fully-stocked chemist, handmade completely in felt. Every hand-painted artwork is sold straight off the felted shelf to customers who can purchase the full range of felt pharmaceuticals by the white-coated Lucy herself.
As with all her work, a recurring theme is to remind us of the importance of the British high street – and how devastating it would be to lose our local shops and services. With Covid-19, this sentiment has become even more relevant – particularly as pharmacy staff have become frontline workers in the battle against the virus and a vital lifeline for the community as access to GPs became restricted.
"It will be apparent to those familiar with my work that I am more than a little obsessed with products, packaging and the order represented by the retail environment," says Lucy of her latest project. "The local chemist shop, however, transports me to a very unique and different place. Overlaid on the flu remedies, make-up and personal hygiene products is a whole level of intimacy not apparent in any other high street shop. There is something so intensely intimate in sharing your personal – and often embarrassing – ailments with a stranger.
"But because that stranger is wearing a white coat you feel safe and trust them with secrets you wouldn't tell your best friend. You don't question their expertise; you do as you are told, take the pill, reassured that all will be well. During the pandemic, chemists became even more important in the community and I am really proud to celebrate them in The Bourdon Street Chemist."
The Bourdon Street Chemist comes under the auspices of the National Felt Service (NFS) - the medical wing, if you will, of Sparrow's felt empire – established in 2017 when Lucy purchased a decommissioned ambulance and re-branded it with bespoke NFS artwork. In 2018, the NFS was unveiled at Miami Art Week, alongside Triple Art Bypass – an interactive exhibit in which Lucy performed live-felt surgery to huge crowds at the annual US art fair. The following year, she purchased a decommissioned ambulance station in Suffolk, converting it into her studio and headquarters.
The Bourdon Street Chemist will go on display at the Lyndsey Ingram Gallery in Mayfair, London from 18 January until 6 February 2021. Booking is essential at lyndseyingram.com. To find out more about Lucy Sparrow or purchase one of her felt art pieces, visit www.sewyoursoul.co.uk.