Fixation with… Superfix: When public art meets make do and mend

Growing up in a house of fixers is something that stays with you for life. I have vivid memories of taking torn garments to my mum and being mesmerised watching her sew on spare buttons and seal rips in treasured play clothes. Even now, catching up with my father on the phone, it’s his updates on restoring the Land Rover 2 series laying in bits in the garage that I secretly enjoy hearing about most.

I found a kindred spirit in artist Rowan Durrant, who came from a household where if something broke it wasn’t a tragedy but rather an excuse to have fun learning how to mend it. His Superfix Archway project in North London last year invited locals to suggest objects needing repair, and then transformed those into useful public artworks. Road signs, house numbers, benches and drain covers all were brought back to life with Rowan’s signature traffic cone orange touch.

His earlier projects were rogue fixes around London, which led to a council commission, my favourite, the sculptural Hackney Wick Fix. Then Archway Council approached him with the idea for a year-long community art project. We talked about fixing and creativity as he gave me a tour of the area’s surviving works (some have been covered or moved, such is the fast pace of an evolving metropolis).

“It’s good and satisfying to fix things,” reflects Rowan as we meander around the neighbourhood, turning corners to little bursts of orange here and there in the urban landscape. Over time, his fixes have settled into their homes, and at points when we’d stop I’d struggle to locate the next one before having it identified. The pieces are at once subtle and striking.

A street sign carefully constructed with layers of laser cut metal to mimic the existing style sits high on a wall of Hargrave Road. Now helping people navigate the streets, it also brings a burst of orange, accentuated by its white backdrop. Nearby, a door number has been restored—the occupier must enjoy seeing the fix daily.

The most enchanting example of how this project brought a bit of colour to the local community is the fleur de lis outside St. John’s Tavern. One morning, having already been ‘superfixed’, it was discovered broken again. Pub-goers hospitalised the orange pieces behind the bar before the landlord contacted Rowan. A new, sturdier aluminium one now sits proudly in place to this day.

The fleur de lis is situated opposite the Map Gift Shop, whose owner, Ian Morris, enjoys watching passers-by stop to take photos and marvel at the thing. “I think it’s been very successful,” he says, “It’s created a buzz in the area.”

“Out of place but in place” is how he describes it. The subtlety and surprise of Rowan’s art—and hopefully the art of fixing too—has caused much fascination amongst locals and visitors alike.