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  02/12/2018

Theatreland

This is a scene from late afternoon in early December 1989. I was being driven along the embankment and as we made a turn into the West End I noticed the lights on the Playhouse Theatre. Much to the driver’s annoyance, I insisted on stopping, getting out and taking some photos with a small camera I always carried with me. I returned to the scene a few days later to reinforce my memory, this time during the cold light of day when the glow of evening is replaced by the mundane, urban aspect of a city at work.

 

I remember as I watched and drifted around waiting for the darkness to descend, I noticed the man selling the evening paper, not handing them out free as they do today. Their cries were a far more familiar sound in the city streets then. As the afternoon merged into dusk I could pick out the one or two points of light that were gradually illuminating the colour I would need differentiating the grey areas, but this was not the illumination of back lit poster hoardings, this was instigated by a string of naked electric light bulbs at the entrance to the Playhouse Theatre. The colours were vibrant and raw unlike the soft-focus blur dominant in lighting today.

 

At the time this scene was painted, the theatre had been running again for only two years. In 1951 it became a BBC recording studio for classics such as the Goon Show, Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son. It had also been a venue for the burgeoning music scene having hosted the Beatles, the Who and the Rolling Stones in what felt like in 1989, a more optimistic and youthful period. The end of the 80s seemed quite different, with the impending roll out of the ‘Poll’ tax and its implications for those of us in the arts whose precarious situations would not tolerate the extra burden of a tax on one’s head.

 

The theatre had been built in 1882 as the Royal Avenue Theatre and specialised in comic operas and burlesque farces. Looking back this was rather apt given what was about to take place regarding the effects of the newly introduced tax, for within a couple of months the streets around here would be the scene of rioting protesters confronting police lines.

 

In the image one knows that it is must be a weekday because of the newspaper seller but there are few people on the street and no sign of tourists. Observing the painting almost thirty years later I notice the more modern buildings looming in the background; I rendered them as basic shapes with little interest in the detail that might be apparent on closer scrutiny. Little did I then think that such buildings would become dominant, taking over large swathes of London. Fortunately though, the Playhouse Theatre still functions and is a successful concern. I shall be passing it today on the way to visit friends in West London and will look at the lighting with great interest… but I will not be asking my husband to stop the car. Too many traffic restrictions are in force these days!