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  17/06/2018

Condemned Shops, Commercial Road

On a perfectly clear, autumn afternoon almost two years ago I was leaving the DLR at Limehouse Station on my way to meet a friend when I was immediately struck by the sight of some derelict shops opposite in the Commercial Road; it was only a moment or two later that I realised this was the site of a painting from 13 years previously. I was astonished to find the same parade of shops still standing almost as they were when I depicted them in 2003, and yet somehow, the scene was completely fresh. Back then I had painted Brothers the Fishmongers and the signage was still visible; the building next door was boarded up but it was still recognisable as part of a former shop parade, more or less intact.

A friend told me later that squatters had moved into the buildings along the parade and set up a community, making full use of the empty space over several years. True, I had noticed rather a lot of graffiti and what appeared to be a clothesline slung across the flat roof of the Emporium a few doors away, but, from the busy Commercial Road, no sign of human activity was visible. I remember the fishmongers being open throughout the 90s but not the Emporium. I can only imagine what had been sold there in its heyday.

I can recall my painting, ‘Fishmongers, Commercial Road’ (2003) very clearly as it was completed before I temporarily packed away my equipment to focus on my work in education. I had been teaching part-time for twelve years by this stage, at Tower Hamlets College in Poplar, mainly on Special Needs and a variety of Vocational Art & Design courses. My paintings were no longer being shown very much and given prevailing trends, it was becoming rather difficult to get exposure for my kind of work. I was offered a full time management post at the college and decided to accept it as I found I was good at

administration and organisation, plus I enjoyed working with other people having spent so many years alone in my studio. Another reason was that I had grown weary of the rain dripping onto my head on stormy nights and the thought of earning funds for a new roof seemed a reasonable idea!

Two paintings have now resulted from my autumn encounter and subsequent visits back to the site. These were exhibited in the exhibition, ‘In Between, Almost Gone’, at the Town House in 2017. ‘Condemned Shops’ and ‘Commercial Road’ both contain the same intense blue sky as the ‘Fishmongers’, a mixture of cerulean and cobalt that one occasionally sees in the East End on a fine day. I wanted to bring out the variety of blues that pinged against the complimentary orange-sienna of the remaining paintwork and the pinkish hue of the crumbling brickwork.

In 2017, as in 2003, I was drawn by the geometry of the facade and the opportunities for emphasising abstract qualities afforded by its compositional arrangement. What had changed by the time I began the later paintings, was my appreciation of pure abstraction encountered in the work of artists such as Piet Mondrian and the abstract paintings of Ben Nicholson. Obviously, my own work is rooted in the forms I encounter from day to day and I am no minimalist, but by 2017 I was more aware of my interest in the underlying structure of a composition and how it acted as an important spur for my subjects. This in turn I think, has given a greater plasticity and as I discovered, despite the rather dilapidated content, an almost elegiac grace and dignity in the facade. 

 

The purchaser of ‘Commercial Road’ wrote to me, ‘My family lived around the corner for several years and I always felt sorry for that little group of shops which were so rundown. It’s good that your painting captured them’.

 

Recently, I was informed that the squatters have been evicted and the site is now a heap of rubble awaiting transformation… into what we can only guess. Still, at least the sky will be intensely blue from time to time.