Anne Desmet RA, Olympic Shadows

Olympic Shadows, 2011

Anne Desmet RA (b. 1964)

RA Collection: Art

Olympic Shadows depicts the stadium built for the 2012 London Olympics. It belongs to Anne Desmet’s series 'Olympic Metamorphoses' (2009-12), a body of work comprising both prints and collages made during the period in which the stadium, and other venues built for the Olympics, were under construction. As their title suggests, the 'Olympic Metamorphoses' depict the changes to the East London landscape made by the construction of venues for the Olympics. The subject-matter interested Desmet partly because of the proximity of the stadia to her home in Hackney (Desmet has written that she felt ‘as though the whole familiar cityscape on my doorstep has been shifting seismically’). Architectural change has long been a theme in Desmet’s work, however. She spent a year the British School at Rome (1989-90) as a Rome Scholar in Printmaking, and has also made bodies of work about Roman, medieval and contemporary Italy, the Tower of Babel, and the grand but dilapidated Victoria Baths in Manchester.

Desmet has described the Victoria Baths as ‘Piranesi-esque’—evoking the work of the G.B. Piranesi, a printmaker and architect famous for his spectacular views of ancient Roman ruins), and there is a clear comparison to be made between Desmet’s prints of the London Stadium and one of Piranesi’s best-known prints, a large bird’s-eye view of the Colosseum in Rome. The similarities tease out affinities between these two grand projects, although Desmet used of photographs sourced from the internet as source material for her print, exploiting recent technologies as well as direct observation.

One of the final prints in the series, Olympic Shadows shows the finished stadium, without the cranes present in earlier prints and with long shadows stretching across the stadium. The print is a wood engraving, meaning that it was printed from a block of wood which the artist worked on for several weeks, using a range of steel cutting tools to make intricate incisions in the block. The block was then covered with a layer of ink and printed by Desmet in her home studio using a nineteenth century printing press. The image was created by the contrast between the areas cut away from the block (which do not hold ink and show as white lines on the paper) and the black, inked areas—this technique is particularly effective for creating strong shadows as in this print.

Prints from the 'Olympic Metamorphoses' were first exhibited at Hart Gallery, London, in 2010. They were also exhibited at the RA in 2012 (including this print), alongside works by Gertrude Hermes and Charles Tunnicliffe, the only other Royal Academicians to have been elected primarily for their achievements as wood-engravers.

Olympic Shadows was submitted by Desmet as her Diploma Work upon her election as an Academician in 2011. Alongside this work Desmet submitted three further prints from the 'Olympic Metamorphoses' series.

Object details

Olympic Shadows
Anne Desmet RA (b. 1964)
Object type
Copyright owner
Wood engraving

100 mm x 126 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Diploma Work given by Anne Desmet RA accepted 29 November 2011
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