The Finnair flight was a little late as it went into final approach. As was their almost unique style for an airline, one of the crew switched off the inflight entertainment to the camera in the nose.
Whilst the medium haul from Helsinki had made up some time for their late departure (“Due to the late arrival of the inbound aircraft” – the oft-heard excuse for final flights at the end of the day in almost any airport around the world), they were still landing into the setting sun.
Glinting off the landmarks of London, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, the sun left a lasting impression for anyone of the 32 travellers in F seats on the starboard side. The Shard; the Gherkin; Buckingham Palace. All were caught in the vivid orange light.
As the Airbus flew on, the landing lights on approach were more and more visible. The pilots were busy with their procedures and the rest of the passengers – those not entranced with the views to port (south of the river – not quite so interesting) and mainly starboard – were glued to the approach.
Like in any flight simulator program, and only emulating real life, the approach lights tapered until the actual runway, slowly getting closer. For one passenger at least, there was a particular reason he had taken this flight and this airline at this time of night and at this time of year. He was glued to the overhead screen and that approach, just 2 seats away.
Unlike long haul, where passengers craving entertainment from one of the up to 500 channels available – depending on choice of airline – medium haul and worse do not usually have in-seat screens. And only if you are lucky with an airline that cares at all, will they deploy above head screens to help with the safety announcements and then leave on a video with muted sound for those possessed of extremely good hearing be able to follow.
Arthur Stephenson reflected on one flight he had taken from a very provincial airport about a year ago where the 15-seater plane used a screwed-to-the-bulkhead television screen for safety and then left a black and white silent from the earliest days of movies playing for the short flight to Jersey. He would never know if the heroine did survive the oncoming runaway train, or was magically saved by the swarthy passer-by with an interest in rounded women and sharp knives.
But allowing his mind to settle back into his focused attention, Arthur began again to watch closely as the plane got nearer and nearer.
He was looking for a particular phenomenon that probably only he would notice, although everyone watching would see.
Arthur – or, for reasons that would shortly unfold, Art, as he was sometimes known – had a moment about to come up that he and possibly others might remember for the rest of their lives.
Three years ago, on a random hunt on the Internet, Arthur had come across something that immediately resonated with him. A documentary on someone that Arthur had been looking out for, for the whole of his life, though he didn’t know it until he saw it.
The documentary was a personal profile of an artist of a particular style. Many would describe it as ‘simplistic’ and indeed to someone seeing such a piece of work on the YouTube video he watched, their first impression could easily have been, “So what, anyone could do that.”
The simple painting of straight lines seemed to be pretty straight forward, even for someone with a four-inch decorators paintbrush and several carefully chosen tins of Dulux (only the best will do) gloss paint.
Yet as Arthur watched on and the artist explained the process required to create the work he did, Arthur realised that not only was this a complex and technical methodology, but that he, Arthur, really, really wanted to do this for himself.
Now, balancing the orange glare of the setting sun right in their eyes with the need for precisely enabling a safe arrival for their last and tired passengers (on the correct runway, of course – not like the occasion where a distracted pilot once tried to land on a taxiway at the airport), the pilots shunned their sunglasses.
They were over the outer perimeter and automatically, the nose camera switched to the alternative view directly below them, rather than forward, as the runway approached closely.
For the passengers, who were almost mesmerised to watch, finally saw what Arthur was on that plane for.
Whilst legally, all airport signage has to be to an internationally agreed standard, the particular feature was an aberration, yet had been signed off by the authorities, which in the United Kingdom was the Airports Authority.
Arthur had investigated Ian Davenport’s work very closely, watching videos and reading articles and books. He even managed to visit the artists studio and see him at work. Much of this was vertical, with the artist literally syringing paint down a vertical surface with a signature pooling of the residue paint as part of the piece at the bottom of the material he was using.
Arthur knew for what he had in mind, a vertically dripped piece of work would not do, for it would have to withstand many tons of pressure potentially many times a day.
After months of trialling and testing, not to mention a small Arts Council grant, Arthur used some of his personal connections in high places to create the opportunity he was looking for.
Just as the wheels touched down, the vision that Art had created was seen by all.
The ‘target’ markings on a runway are usually thick white stripes of paint, not much different, in another setting, of course, to that of what is known in the UK as a ‘zebra crossing’. Used by generations to cross the road, it has a universal appeal to small children, who often took to only walking on the white strips or conversely, on perhaps another day, only walking on the white stripes.
Tonight, the pilots would not be targeting a bigger version of a zebra crossing, but they would be targeting Art’s piece of unique art.
Finally, for Art, his moment arrived. And it was only a moment. A flash of rainbow colours and the bump of finally being down.
Arthur Stephenson was delighted. A few passengers would re,ember it and in the end, a success for British art. All thanks to the persistence of Arthur and the brilliant inspiration he got from one Ian Davenport..