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 26/08/2018
I have noticed several articles appearing in the papers recently on the demise of the local public convenience, an amenity gradually disappearing as a result of local government cutbacks and the unwillingness of authorities to maintain them. I was very pleased to discover this one during a ‘scout about’ in the Silvertown locality a couple of years ago. It was still standing proudly although out of use, gradually becoming overgrown and wreathed in creepers and other vegetation.
Elaborate yet solidly constructed, the public convenience became a familiar sight in East London during Victorian Times despite the appalling housing conditions of many of its inhabitants. They contained unique signage and an iconographic style instantly recognisable anywhere, reminiscent of other municipal amenities such as post boxes, bus stops, telephone booths and the unforgettable blue police telephone box, resurrected as the Tardis of Dr Who.
The public convenience had separate entrances for males and females (a very civilised option) and first appeared in the 1850s in the form of the miniature cottages you see depicted here or as underground conveniences with beautiful tiling and highly decorated accessories. In some salubrious locations they even had marble floors. Today, quite a few of these amenities no longer function as lavatories, but have been transformed to use as bars or even restaurants, not so my little cottage, though!
The Turner Award Artist, Grenville Davey had suggested an old public house in Silvertown he thought would interest me, so I keenly went along to explore this out the way corner of London’s East End when I came across this edifice suffering from years of neglect but still standing, proving how solidly built they must have been. I was attracted to the glazed red brickwork reminding me of the midlands where I grew up and by the almost pretty facade reminiscent of a minute country house transported into incongruous gritty urban surroundings. Behind was a delightful small park, also devised in Victorian Times, empty of people yet littered with discarded cans and fast food wrappers. A Public House was around the corner, and opposite this a Police Station constructed with the same monumental brickwork of the period. I was struck looking around, at the paucity of human beings and, detritus aside, it hardly seemed feasible that the area warranted a police station, a park, public conveniences and public houses, these all being crammed between the large basin of the Royal Docks and the River Thames. However, this district had been at the heart of a once thriving industrial community, the ‘hub of Empire’, with the Royal Docks exchanging a plethora of goods and materials, as well as containing refineries, transport links to other industrial centres and even the Silvertown Armaments Factory. Today it serves as a thoroughfare to the Woolwich ferry and has a transitory ‘passing through’ quality about it with the London City Airport close by.
Standing four square and robust, the Little Cottage didn’t look long for this world and I instantly knew I had to capture it before the bulldozers moved in. I had been looking at the work of George Shaw’s public loos of Wolverhampton, structurally not a patch on this lovingly designed building, decorated as it was with glass bricks and a fan light canopy that would come up a treat with a bit of care. As I was actively working on the painting a friend visited me and I showed him what I was working on and explaining its location. ‘Oh you don’t mean the one around the corner from the police station do you… with the pub nearby?’ he exclaimed. When I affirmed this he told me it had been a notorious meeting place years before that he had made use of. He went on to say that he could never understand why the police had never made any arrests there situated as they were, so close by. I suspect the frisson of danger might have been part of its appeal.