The excitement for me as an artist lies not in exploring the unknown but in how I can effectively organise a visual arrangement that reflects the atmosphere and intensity of an environment, evoking a precise moment of the day under specific light and conditions. I hope you enjoy the work
Feature of the week 25/02/2018
One Canada Square was an exception in terms of subject matter for me. I don’t usually paint modern buildings as the lack of character and history fails to inspire me, however; as I observed the tower at Canary Wharf rising from a short distance, I felt compelled to record the change in what had been a familiar urban environment.
Being an immediate spectator to its construction, I observed the tower rise up from the remains of the docks. I remember watching as mature trees and ready-made gardens in kit form were lifted into position by cheerful, orange cranes bedecked with fairy lights. That first Christmas in 1990, the skyline and the pyramid hat were clearly visible from my bedroom window.
Twilight, 1 Canada Square
I was intrigued enough by what I had seen during the construction of this building to begin making sketches. When I had settled on the composition I found that it held a number of difficulties for me. To paint all 50 floors of the block containing goodness knows how many windows, presented a daunting challenge, especially their reflective quality. This I realized would have a major impact on the mood of the piece. I also struggled with the perspective as I was looking from a ‘worms eye’ viewing angle. I referred to the painters, Richard Estes and Brendan Neiland for guidance. In the end though, I simply continued to be flexible and adjusted the formal elements until I felt the composition worked.
Then, finally being satisfied with it, the 1992 recession kicked in and Canary Wharf was stagnating. I put the painting in store for five years because it was then very different to much of my other work but eventually, I had the opportunity to exhibit it. ‘One Canada Square’ was put on display in the window of the Docklands Gallery in nearby Harbour Exchange Square. On Friday 9 February, 1996, the IRA decided to detonate a truck bomb at South Quays DLR station. Tragically two people were killed, many injured and a lot of damage caused. As a result the force of the blast shattered the gallery window and shards of glass rained across the surface of the painting, causing in places the top layer of paint to flake off but not piercing the fabric of the canvas.
Consequently, I chose not to restore the damage figuring the painting was, in its own way, developing a personal history.
Revisiting Canary Wharf today, I’m astonished by the complexity of the built environment and the number of people going about their business. I tried, in those days, to capture what seemed like a ghostly emptiness of a town lying in wait for the future to begin, like a funfair before the crowds have arrived.