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 18/08/2018
The Palaseum Cinema
The Palaseum initially attracted my attention because of its façade, which was so much at variance with the other buildings that lined the Commercial Road from Limehouse to Aldgate. There is of course the Moorish appearance of the ‘Star of the East’ pub, boarded up now and, I believe, in the midst of a fight for its survival. I am also told that it is the oldest surviving building in the Commercial Road. In the main though, the architecture along this thoroughfare, is solid, Victorian and worthy, lacking in extraneous detail; Limehouse Library and Poplar Town Hall being typical.
One needs to take into consideration the fact that the Palaseum and the Star of the East were places of frivolity and potential iniquity! It seems that when it was completed in 1912 the cinema had a distinctly exotic look about it. There was a small dome on either side of the facade as well as the large central globe that you can see in the painting. It opened its doors as Fienman’s Yiddish Theatre, but started screening films almost immediately and was renamed the Palaseum Cinema in 1913. It is unclear for how long the audience was primarily Jewish, but having changed hands on many occasions over the years, its final reincarnation in 1965 was as a Bollywood Picture House, which I find an interesting reflection of the changing population of the East End. Doors finally closed in 1985, and I have read since that the demise of a number of East End cinemas in the post war period was due in part to the Local Authority obstructing planning permission for their modernisation, an emphasis at the time being placed on the reconstruction of housing instead. It wasn’t until 2008 that the building was finally pulled down to make way for flats and a Tesco Express. One hopes that a similar fate is not in store for the ‘Star of the East’.
All of my trips along the Commercial Road to Watney Market and Sainsbury’s took place during the day and like most places of entertainment, the Palaseum looked drab and forlorn with a shabby dusty appearance during daylight hours. However it continued to attract my attention and one chilly evening in Autumn, 1984, I set out armed with a voluminous scarf, sketchbook and fingerless gloves. I was immediately struck by the building’s appearance of tawdry glamour and its brave attempt to draw in an audience on the busy highway with articulated lorries thundering by. I didn’t see any people at all, entering or leaving during the half hour or so that I stood there; buskers would have had a lean time of it. In retrospect I should have gone inside and observed the decor, watched the film that was showing but, never a fan of the cold, I returned thankfully home and executed a detailed black and white drawing in pencil in the warm comfort of my studio.
The oil painting, executed from the drawing, was completed just in time for an exhibition at Spitalfields Health Centre in Brick Lane in July 1985, where a fellow artist and designer John Marshall, for whom I used to model, purchased it. I subsequently lost contact with both him and the painting until a few months ago when we were able to reconnect, thanks to social media. As with several other early works that I had not seen for many years, I was surprised by the scale of the painting.
A few days ago I visited The Palaseum in its residence in Beckenham and spent a delightful couple of hours becoming re-acquainted with the owner and his wife. John Marshall is still working creatively, and I viewed his playful mobiles and portfolio of artwork (including drawings of a much younger me). The walls were lined with paintings that demonstrate a great deal of talent and sensitivity. I mentioned that he certainly deserves wider recognition, at which John shrugged his shoulders.