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  30/06/2018

The Massala Grill

With an eye on the current Football World Cup and the England team hanging on in there (at least at the time of my writing this), one cannot help but notice the plethora of St George flags that seem to crop up in the oddest of places… not only displayed on cars, taxis and pubs; but also scaffolding, cranes and even pets. It all had me thinking about my painting, Massala Grill where a lone cyclist is depicted during the last, unsuccessful tournament, cycling with a St George flag protruding from his satchel whilst biking under the railway arch in Parnham Street.

 

I remembered the cafe here from the eighties and was pleased to find it still functioning as a place of refreshment though under a different name and cultural context. The first time I encountered ‘Ye old Tea Shoppe’ in 1986, I was startled as the location is way off the beaten track in a tiny street very close to the canal. In fact the cafe served as a stop-off rendezvous for cab drivers, not only from the office next door which was clad by mock Tudor timbers and all very ‘Olde English’, but joined by taxi drivers from all over East London, probably the reason it thrived. On fine mornings rickety, iron tables and fold up chairs would be placed outside, and hearty breakfasts placed in front of the well fed looking drivers. The clientele extended to leather clad motorcycle couriers who also frequented this honoured oasis. When I went back a couple of years ago, the taxi office was a private house but the mock timbers still remained and, remembering the couriers, I was delighted to capture a lone cyclist riding under the arch.

 

The image of the flag bearing, lone cyclist on a sunny morning riding down this backwater and whistling cheerfully stayed with me for several months. What had intrigued me above all was the juxtaposition of differing cultural strands epitomised by the innocent flag gliding by the Massala Grill, which had replaced the traditional greasy spoon cafe. The flag’s placing was a far cry from the more unsavoury uses of the symbol, misappropriated at times by the far right and other nationalist organisations. The cheerful neon sign of the cafe announced its existence with the recently plastered façade, bright and freshly painted. There was a new build on the opposite side of the bridge sporting an eye-catching green façade. How to resolve that within the composition was going to be a particular challenge.

 

I did not have to, in this instance, deal with yellow and black warning strips on the arch of the bridge or bright fluorescent yellow walls servicing a purpose I am not clear of. In the eighties the local paper frequently carried dramatic photos of tall vans bringing road traffic and trains to a halt as they absentmindedly scrunched into the low bridges. Usually the damage was to the vehicle involved only.

 

The perseverance of Eastenders to carry on, come what may, living cheek by jowl with emerging communities, who then in turn become the next community of locals is something that has been noted for many decades. The Victorian railway arches that continue for the moment at least, to support local industries are another successful exemplar of this way of life.