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 11/11/2018
Mile End Church with Canal
The Spring of 1985 was very cold, but even colder in Holland where I was visiting. It also rained a lot as I remember, shivering in the ‘Brown Bars’ with cold wet feet, ill-prepared for the icy cold winds that swept through canal side streets. The museums however were warm and welcoming, havens from the outside weather and the works in the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum entranced me.
The experience that remains most vivid in my memory is the trip to the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, a short train journey from Amsterdam. There, I was transfixed by works from the Dutch Golden Age of Painting, particularly the View of Delft by Vermeer. I knew this painting in reproduction but, when standing in front of it, the sheer physical presence knocked me sideways. I believe it was painted around 1660 and is one of the first known cityscapes. There is a quietude and serenity about the scene that I find quite eerie and it always sends a shiver down my spine. Perhaps it reflects a kind of stillness either prior to or following a storm, hinted at by the brooding presence of a darkening cloud placed in the uppermost part of the composition.
It is difficult to imagine how Vermeer managed to paint such intense focused paintings given that his wife gave birth to 15 children of which ten survived. He died at the relatively young age of 43 in 1675 having spent most of his life in Delft. He painted very slowly and meticulously and, although respected in his hometown, he was quickly forgotten after his death, possibly on account of his refusal to dramatise or elaborate on the everyday.
Once back in London I started a new series of works focusing on similar subject material close to my vicinity and Mile End Park with Canal forms one of this series. It is a part of the Mile End Road where the canal crosses underneath and, I seem to recall, was not so congested as it is today. In fact, between the rush hours of morning and evening it appeared relatively sedate compared to the East India Dock/Commercial Roads further to the south. Thinking back to working on this painting I am aware that I had Vermeer’s View of Delft fresh in my mind. The proportions are similar as is the composition with its large expanse of sky allowing me to introduce different atmospheric conditions… something that had hitherto been missing with frontal elevation compositions and flatter areas of colour. The light refracting from watery reflections and relatively low-lying buildings contributed to the subtlety I was striving for.
The painting was sold in an exhibition at Camden Arts Centre the following year and I didn’t set eyes on it again for 33 years. Earlier this summer it was photographed for my book Doreen Fletcher, Paintings which is to be published later this week. I remembered how I wanted to depict the clarity of light that permeates the post-industrial east end skies and the peaceful solitude of strolling through the park.
The quietude that I hoped to capture has all but disappeared today and this part of Mile End Park is a bustling urban thoroughfare with a constant stream of cyclists along the tow path, joggers running over the man-made hillocks in the park; and the constant flow across the pedestrianised millennium bridge spanning the Mile End Road. Trendy cafes and pizzerias have sprung up catering for the growing student population of Queen Mary University. The area seems to be enjoying rejuvenation and it is heartening to see spindly saplings that have matured into strong supple trees. Even so, I think it will be a while yet before I could compare it to Amsterdam.