Over the past week, my Facebook and Twitter have been on fire with news and photos of the mysterious skateboard that magically appeared in the hand of our Southend Victoria Gateway statue, enchanting us all. (Well, most of us were enchanted. Some people were downright disgusted that the statue, that nobody really gave a crud about before, had been desecrated in such a way.)

The £50,000 bronze sculpture by Belgian artist René Julien, titled The Return, symbolises the return home and that first ecstatic embrace between two people separated. Placed directly outside of Southend Victoria station, it captures that moment well, yet remains largely ignored by everyone but the skaters who inhabit that area and see it the most.

During the Southend Victoria Gateway Projections, I wrote about the skateboarders who hang around on the Southend Victoria Gateway’s “Shared Space”, as it is known. The Southend Victoria Gateway Projections invited locals to discuss what they would like to see that Shared Space used for. The skateboarders being the ones who utilise that area the most, they expressed very clearly what they would like to see in the area. And now this revamp of the statue serves as a reminder of that.

Southend Victoria Skateboarders

Suffice it to say that the skaters of Southend are determined to get their skatepark. The Southend Skatepark Push community has grown nearly 1500 Likes on Facebook in little over two weeks, and this sculpture is doing wonders for promoting the issue in local media.

The addition of the skateboard seems to have given the statue a completely unique meaning (though its new meaning has certainly been interpreted in a real variety of ways…), redefining the reasons behind the youthful excitement of the two subjects within the sculpture.

But who put the skateboard there?

Introducing… Laura Keeble!

This isn’t the first time the elusive Laura Keeble has got Southend talking with her guerrilla art. A browse through her impressive portfolio on her website exposes a colourful spectrum of her artistic talents. So why is she not so recognised? Even the Echo featured an article about her this week, dubbing the additions made to the statue as the work of local pranksters, without any acknowledgement of Laura, the artist behind the piece. Even the tone of the Echo’s tweet suggests disbelief that the council would allow vandals to be celebrated for their vandalism.

I’m no journalist, but it didn’t take me long to find out who was behind the skateboard addition. In fact, it took a quick search on Twitter.

As I stated before, this wasn’t the first time Laura Keeble has got Southend talking like this, whilst managing to remain anonymous…

In 2007, Laura Keeble surrounded the base of the Queen Victoria statue (located at Clifftown Parade on the seafront) with 14 new plaster imitation hands, in a cheeky response to the repeated theft of Queen Victoria’s hand. The Echo didn’t know who was behind the “prank” then either, as there was still no mention of Laura in the Echo’s article.

Queen Victoria Statue's Hands

In 2010, she placed a plaster and mixed media mermaid outside of Starbucks on Southend high street, the mermaid of course being Starbucks’ logo. The sculpture consisted of Starbucks ephemera and coffee beans, and was titled “Wish You Were Here?“. The installation was apparently removed by Starbucks within half an hour. Understandably.

Laura Keeble - Wish You Were Here...

In 2011, Laura placed a plaster and mixed media sculpture of Cupid wistfully sitting upon a pile of money in front of a shop on Southend high street advertising (rather excessively, which I believe is the point) Valentines Day. The piece was titled “Love is…“.

Laura Keeble - Love is...

And now the Skateboarder’s Return.

As it turns out, Laura only added the skateboard to the sculpture. The empty can of energy drink and the Supra sneakers were contributed by someone else, inspired by the skateboard and wanting to add to it. I personally love the fact that this is encouraging collaborative guerrilla art! The additions do not damage the original statue in any way; they are completely detachable fixtures. Which is why I’m somewhat impressed that it has gone undisturbed in the days that it has been up there. By both locals and the council.

A spokesperson for the council has said that:

“Clearly some effort has gone into giving the bronze statue a modern take and shows what a vibrant cultural scene we have here in Southend and what talented artists we have. This has generated positive comments on social media and is clearly getting people to talk about art, which we think is great. While we need to return the statue to its original state at some point, we intent to leave this new interpretation as it is now, for now, and would be delighted to speak to the artists to see if we could work with them.”

Skateboard Statue outside Southend Victoria

I especially loved this photo I came across – originally from rorymcpherson.com

All other photographs used were sourced from Laura’s website and Instagram.