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 06/05/2018
Corner Shop, Canning Town
This week we go into new territory- outside the ‘manor’ into Canning Town. On a Saturday afternoon in June 1991, I went walkabout after visiting an unrewarding jumble sale on the Aberfeldy estate in Poplar. I wandered through the streets barely noticing the gasometer that these days is a rare feast for the eyes, back then it was just another bit of street furniture. I decided recklessly to press on exploring what was for me, a new land - Canning Town on the other side of the River Lea, ‘the child of the Victoria Docks’ as Dickens termed it. Originally constructed on marshland the other side of the Lea in the 19th century, it fell outside the regulation of the London Metropolitan Buildings Act; as a consequence disease and illnesses abounded in the very mixed, multicultural population of the time.
As I continued walking, my eye was attracted by a black and white collie dog (surely way outside his territory too?). Looking very purposeful and intent on a mission he was walking not running, so I followed down him down a street that had been cleared and was awaiting redevelopment. The dog turned a corner and had vanished by the time I got there. I assume he went into the newsagents’ as the door was open. I was immediately transported to the corner shops of my childhood in the Potteries. Every street had one and my favourite was at the end of our own street; it smelt of firelighters and paraffin.
I thought I should capture shop front as a photograph because it did not appear to be long for this world! I should have gone inside to purchase some liquorice all-sorts but I was keen to press on to look for other hidden gems that did not, of course, materialise. This image stayed and refused to leave my mind so I returned one fine day in the autumn to make some quick sketches and buy some sweets in order to check out the interior, but I was already too late. It was boarded up, awaiting redevelopment.
I decided to depict the shop anyway, using coloured pencils, a medium that I had recently started to become familiar with and which I considered to be appropriate for the graphic nature of the image. I was thinking of an American Photorealist artist named John Baeder (born 1938) who is well known for his technicolour interpretations of roadside diners. He appeared to work directly from photographs and I would have to do the same in this case. Atmospherically this part of Canning Town was transformed by the bright sunshine almost like a film set and I wanted to introduce an ambience of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’
Had the dog gone into the shop? What was he doing out and about alone in Canning Town? Mind you, one could say the same about my husband Steve who, on seeing the drawing twenty-five years later exclaimed “I know that shop, it looks just like the one my dad used to send me in order to buy his newspaper and Golden Virginia!”. Given that the family moved out to Essex when Steve was seven, by today’s standards, he was very young to be wandering the streets alone on errands, but he says that the streets belonged to the kids, substituting the bomb sites for new battlegrounds before they were redeveloped for the post-war reconstruction.
Yes the shop did sell firelighters and paraffin. I missed the opportunity for a nostalgic trip into the past.