What are you looking at?
In real life you have to crouch to see this view. The railings of the bridge come to about elbow height, enough to stop anyone inadvertently falling into the canal below. From street level, you will easy to miss that there’s a bridge. The gap between the tall buildings is relatively slight. It’s not a commanding bridge in any sense of the word, with brick columns separating short lengths of sculpted iron railings. But it is a charming and attractive one. You’ll find it on Oxford Road where it crosses over the Rochdale Canal.
The locks are the stars in this piece. There are bunches of them festooned over the beautiful ironwork, the details of which are hidden by the bulk of the locks.
I’m struck by the number and variety. With personal details scratched or painted onto the sides of the locks. Some clear and others worn away by weather and time.
In fact, the whole scene is weathered, like so many of the locks. A few are glittering in their youth with shiny loops of stainless steel clasping tenaciously onto the railing. Others are plain and dull, the odd one a brilliant yellow and red, or sporting a hint of glowing green, or cool blue.
Each lock tells a story. Maybe you know it? More likely not. Stories of love, stories of loss, perhaps.
I didn’t know when Love Locks became a thing, until I researched for this painting. The first time I remember seeing them was on a bridge in Paris, or somewhere in France. I’d never heard of it before.
The earliest reports of Love Locks are from Serbia in World War 1 and their popularity increase in following the publication of the book I Want You by Federico Moccia. This was made into a film in 2007. In the age of global communication, the idea spread and so did the incidence of love lock bridges in numerous towns and cities since.
I’m ambivalent whether it’s a good thing. It has proved destructive, with some reports of bridges being damaged by the extra weight. But love stories keep the world going. And who are we to deny love?
What do you see?
Looking at the painting, can you see two giant hands filled with locks? Is he offering them to us or keeping them safe?
Love locks is a busy painting. We haven’t begun to look at the architecture! Overlooking the towpath on the left, it’s like a steep cliff, with a slight drop in height before towering overhead again, drawing our eyes to the vague buildings in the distance. On the right, the sheer face of the buildings dominate the view.
Down below, agitated by a breeze, the water’s surface reflects light but not detail. Dark Shadows edge a thin path of rippling light.
Barring our way is the lock bridge and the love locks themselves. Where are the keys?
They are traditionally thrown into the water below and not treasured on a chain around the Beloved’s neck, which I personally think, might be a charming variation.