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  27/05/2018

Limehouse Library

The eighties were arguably the glory years for Limehouse Library as a series of one-person artists’ exhibitions touring the borough took place and I was given the opportunity in 1986 to present my work in the ‘Scenes from an Urban Life’ exhibtion. The library itself had been opened in 1901 by Victorian Philanthropist John Passmore Edwards and he donated the funds to construct this rather austere, fine looking edifice.

  

In 1987 the library saw the unveiling of a huge mural entitled, ‘Limehouse Reach’, painted in the style of William Blake by local artist Clare Smith and in the following year, Harold Wilson unveiled a statue of Clement Attlee by sculptor Frank Forster outside the library. I felt this important statue didn’t look comfortable standing in such a

cramped space outside the rather sooty, yet austerely dignified building and eventually it suffered vandalism once the library ceased to have any official function. It has now been relocated to Queen Mary’s University, Mile End. I feel the statue was intended for the enjoyment of local people and I wonder how many of them wander through the portal gates of the university to glimpse a view of one of this country's most important reforming prime ministers.

  

I painted the library in its heyday in 1988, and even then the building had the look of a bygone era. For me, evening was an ideal time to set the composition, which included the adjacent petrol garage as a modern counterpoint. The library's façade with its contrast of pale stone and yellow bricks must have been stunning when freshly built but decades of pollution have nibbled away at the surface texture and faded the brightness of the brickwork. The petrol garage in the painting has now been demolished and re-developed into even more urban flats but the library still stands. Fortunately, it is a listed building, boarded up awaiting a rebirth. Previously, I have mentioned the fascination twilight has for me as an artist; the magic wand that showers light like dust over the mundane and ordinary and I am currently painting another petrol station located further east in Beckton. A more banal image would be difficult to imagine, yet at night it takes on an ethereal, surreal atmosphere. Petrol stations have a timeless, transitory appeal creating a frisson that has stayed with me ever since I saw when 21, Hopper’s iconographic painting ‘Gas’ executed in 1940.

   

Limehouse Library in 1987 was significant as I made an exciting discovery, the existence of an extensive collection of audio-cassette talking books, on the shelves toward the back of the library. This event led me to spend the following fourteen years happily listening my way through a wide range of material whilst I painted or drew in my studio. BBC Radio 4, I’m afraid to say, was placed on the back burner as I received a fascinating education in literature, high, low and populist. This included racehorse skulduggery, thrillers, travel and crime, whilst also revisiting old favourites -  the more well-known of Dickens’ novels; the Brontes; Jane Austen; Jean Rhys; Barbara Pym; Virginia Woolf .......... I tried to mix high and low brow equally but you can imagine I didn’t always succeed!

  

In 1997, when returning some audio cassettes I noticed that staff were busy tidying a storeroom. On closer inspection I was astonished to glimpse on a shelf, looking forlorn and dusty, one of my oil paintings that had gone missing. The painting depicted terraced houses in Stoke-on-Trent and had been lost 11 years previously by the libraries' department. The exhibition, ‘Scenes from Urban Life’ had travelled the borough and I presumed this painting had been mislaid or stolen en route. Repeated enquiries failed to unearth it. In fact it had been accidentally left behind and put away ‘for safekeeping’ then forgotten about. Fortunately I had written my name and address on the back and production of a library card was the only proof I needed in those days to take it home again.

 

With a duster, a clean and some added retouching varnish, it belied its twenty-one years of age. The other day I realised to my chagrin that it had been on that shelf over half of it’s life. Another 21 years have passed and I still have the painting, perhaps one day it will find a home.

  

Making this point, I have to tell you about a request I recently made to Tower Hamlets Local History for the loan of another of my paintings, ‘The Snooker Club’, a painting I have written about previously and which was purchased following the touring ‘Scenes from an Urban Life’ exhibition in 1987. A gallery is considering putting on a retrospective of my work and in preparation for this I asked Tower Hamlets if I could check the painting, thinking about its inclusion. Once more, I found this painting was in need of some TLC. It was dusty, looking forlorn and on this occasion, chipped in one or two places. Unfortunately, my offer to clean and freshen it up is proving rather problematic. A large amount of bureaucracy, travel insurance, paperwork including an analysis of the condition of the painting prior to my touching it has been demanded, even though I, the artist, have kindly offered to take on the task at no expense to the borough. Had Tower Hamlets looked after the painting better in the first place none of this would of course be necessary!