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 10/06/2018
Hand Car Wash, Salmon Lane
In early 1983 I attended a party that a group of artists were throwing in a prefab on Condor Street E14. The single storey construction came as a revelation to me as I had travelled over from West London where I was staying at the time. The bungalow was rented from the artist organisation, ACME Studios, and it belonged to the abstract painter Paul Tomkin. In fact the whole street contained prefabs inhabited by artists, dwellings that some locals couldn’t wait to get out of and which provided some welcome living/work spaces for up and coming creative people during this period. Other artist inhabitants included Richard Taffs, Alison Wilding, Ed Smith and Peri Parkes who appears in East End Vernacular and all frequented the nearby Queen’s Head pub. The clientele at this establishment also included the other prefab dwellers… a group of Hells Angels, a rather alarming looking bunch to my somewhat sheltered eyes- all metal studs, tattoos and black leather, perhaps not so unusual today. I remember leaving the party, having drunk too much wine, my scarf getting tangled up in a rose bush, and thinking how delightfully rural the environment was, rather a misconception.
Of course the Prefabs didn’t last too much longer as they made way for other social housing needs. However, their life story has been well recorded and documented in an archive display held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 2013, entitled ‘ACME Studios’. Today, anonymous low-rise habitations stand where individualised ramshackle units used to line the road in glorious chaos hugger, mugger.
Two years ago, revisiting these streets my eye was caught by a ramshackle shed on the Salmon Lane end of the site. It looked mad, bad and dangerous like a wasp - black and yellow typography proclaimed, ‘New and part used tyres from £10 each’, with splashes of red paint here and there. Mountains of tyres rising up into the sky completed the image and were presenting exciting opportunities for using a range of warm and cool greys juxtaposed next to a range of lemon and cadmium yellows, with a dash of scarlet and crimson. A tin of viridian paint appeared to have spilled long ago onto the pavement… the icing on the cake! So I set to tackling a complex set of technical problems in regard to making this composition of colour work, and come alive. For such a small painting it became a struggle for several months and it was a while before I could feel the combination of elements knit together.
Not being a driver myself, I have given little thought to the small businesses that exist in every nook, cranny and railway arch in London: tyre shops, car washes, auto spare parts, minor repair shops, MOTs, all providing a living and a way of life for those who cling on whilst corporate organisations spring up all around. These small enterprises in turn service the independent corner cafes that continue to eke out a living in the face of Costas, Cafe Nero and Starbucks, none of which as yet, display any interest in setting up on these streets. I found myself becoming overly acquainted with the similarity of garish colour schemes that unite these ‘off the cuff’ establishments and before long I was able to recognise them from afar, latching on as I passed the emblematic arrangement of crude typographic design along with their punchy yellows, blacks and check patterns, all set against the grease and the grime. Perhaps those Hells Angels had more of an aesthetic influence than I have admitted or realised.
It was an ironic twist of fate then that ‘Hand Car Wash’ found itself displayed one night in the cool, clean marbled corridors of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Champagne flowed and canapés were being handed round… pounced on by the hungry- mainly artists, and we were there for the announcement of the winner of the Evening Standard Contemporary Art Award. As ‘the suits’ mingled with the 10 short-listed artists, it was worth reflecting on how the owners and workers of the Car Wash might view this fancy occasion.
Of course, ‘Hand Car Wash’ didn’t win anything… but I wasn’t expecting it to either, having by now been ‘round the block’ a few times. As we lingered, following the announcement one or two of the artists became a little inebriated, making full use of the freebies scattered about on the white linen tables whilst ‘the suits’ and their friends departed for their favoured eating destinations or nightclubs. On the way home Steve asked me if I were disappointed, but how could I be… I was heading back to the east-side and that has afforded me a subject, a life and a perspective for so many years and this has fed my work and will I hope, continue to do so for some time to come.