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 08/07/2018
Gatwick House, Poplar
I would pass Gatwick House daily as I took the ‘scenic’ route to the shops in the Commercial Road through Brickfield Gardens, the scene of another painting. On a warm Spring evening, returning from Nisa (aka Four Seasons today) with a carrier bag of snacks to enjoy in the back garden I was shaken by the transformation of the scene wrought by the sunset on the uncompromising concrete block.
I was a little challenged when it came to interpreting nearby Gatwick House, a sixties block of social housing that was high rise in terms of our ‘estate’, consisting then mainly of post-war low rise flats and a few pockets of Victorian terraced housing that had survived both the bombing and the GLC redevelopment plans for extending the park.
The composition only ever amounted to some sketches together with this coloured pencil drawing, but when I was making it I was thinking in terms of contrast with another painting of mine, Canary Wharf at Twilight. The two sites are socially very different. The tower at Canary Wharf had recently been completed and although the time of day in each work was similar, the iconic office block seemed sober and deserted apart from its reflective glass. This was outside business hours and anyway, less than half the offices were occupied at the time. It was rather like some of the apartment blocks, which have now emerged in nearby Stratford Centre. Some apartments have been purchased but hardly ever occupied, and as I pass by them on a winter’s evening I am reminded of a grinning mouth punctuated with missing teeth.
The gardens in front of the Canada Place building were manufactured during the period of a couple of weeks, the trees planted relatively mature, and the paving almost immaculate. The atmosphere was that of a ‘fuzzy felt’ landscape. In contrast Gatwick House blazes with light, every flat occupied and the residents mostly at home. It is not the prettiest building in the neighbourhood but there was a waiting list for small one/two bedroom flats. The lot of the residents were single and had led difficult lives.
The scrubby grass alongside shows evidence of constant use. Impromptu football games (never cricket) were common, dogs fought and played. After the area had been damaged during the war it was rebuilt in the utopian modern period, the park once a brickfield was re-landscaped with a bandstand and even a children’s paddling pool. By the time I arrived in 1983, the bandstand had vanished and the paddling pool was dry and forlorn, deemed too dangerous for young children to play in. It would have been ideal for skateboarders but I don’t recall seeing any at that time.
I didn’t have much money to travel then, except to see my family back in Stoke-on-Trent, but happily for me, there was enough material in my immediate locality to retain my visual interest and to inspire me to record. Sadly, this was a painting was never executed but I did make a coloured pencil drawing that you can see here.
I haven’t mentioned one important feature of this drawing; the welcoming lights of the Prince Alfred, glowing in the distance. The landlord was considered a foreigner here, because he came from Bethnal Green. It didn’t prevent him doing ‘lock outs’ though, a common practice in those days. After hours, the lights were dimmed and shutters came down so that drinking could continue. The Prince Alfred was distinguished by an aquarium that I avoided sitting near. It was large but seemed to me like a prison.
Today the tree is still there, the block of flats continues to be fully occupied and a new generation plays football on the still scrubby grassland. Dogs bark, on leads these days, their owners carrying plastic bags. The Prince Alfred however is gone to be replaced by private housing; at least the architecture is in keeping with the Victorian facade of Clemence Street.