Under the M4

I came across this place as I walked the River Brent, from Brentford to Perivale.

You can read that piece if you'd like a full dose of Brentual context, but to briefly recap:

In the 1620s, Boston Manor House was built, with a surrounding Park, through which the Brent flows, splitting temporarily into two streams, creating a long, thin island.

In the 1960s, the M4 was built, extending Chiswick flyover several miles west across Boston Manor Park - the giant concrete piers striding across this island. So to access this space, you cross a bridge over the Brent beneath a bridge over the Brent.

Under the M4

And what a space. Moated on both sides and both ends by the river, screened by high trees along both sides, and the motorway above, it is a paradoxical delight.

What photographs can't convey, of course, is the sound - of course, the ongoing surreal rumble of traffic overhead; traffic in the aggregrate, the drivers entirely abstract, removed, in another world. But the rest of the city's sounds are blocked, so this rumble is a strange kind of sanctuary.

And just look at that light, the jagged diagonal formed of the flyover's edge running into its own shadow.

Under the M4 - diagonal

Soak up the long perspective between these enormous arches, stacking and shrinking toward a vanishing point.

Beautiful, right?

I'd not blame you for disagreeing. A concrete and steel monster stomping across a green parkland, thousands of tons of potential death cantilevered over your head, blocking the sun, rattling and droning with the incessant grind of polluting traffic - some people would probably find this a thoroughly horrid environment.

But I found it quite the opposite. The island geography and motorway infratsructure combined to make a part-natural, part architectural shield, creating an oasis, a meditative arena; almost an accidental cathedral.

And like all cathedrals, it has paintings and artwork.

Not of the "preserved for centuries" type here, though - on the contrary, it looks like a regular running battle continues between writers and anti-graffiti block repainters. I don't suppose anything here lasts long.

My favourite of the display on this day was definitely the Mr Bump down the end.

Graffiti under the M4 Graffiti under the M4

Back under the M4

But at the far tip of the island, there's no bridge, so it's a long walk back where you came and around if you want to follow in the motorway's concrete footsteps.

You're rewarded by an even longer shot under the piers, but no graffiti to outdo the island. Not today, anyway.

Back under the M4

This was my favourite on this side of the river.

More graffiti under the M4 Long shot under the M4

More graffiti under the M4

Half a mile upstream, the motorway swings over the Brent for one final time, and with it there's another flourish of graffiti.

Graffiti under second M4/Brent bridge Graffiti under second M4/Brent bridge

I can't read it to save my life, which tells you I'm not an educated, graffiti-literate critic of graffiti -- but for what it's worth, I love this. I'd say it's probably the best piece I've seen "in the wild" in London.

Graffiti under second M4/Brent bridge Graffiti under second M4/Brent bridge
London Borough of Hounslow