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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  13/01/2019

Ice Cream Van, Poplar


Most of the popular icons that I grew up with in the late fifties and sixties have long since bitten the dust, for example, every high street had a Woolworths, Wimpy Bars and usually, a cinema. There were gleaming lemon and chrome coffee houses run by Italian immigrant families that also sold milk shakes and delicious desserts, but these have now largely disappeared. Some of the ice cream vans introduced by these entrepreneurs to this country remain though, and I am told that the first ice cream van appeared in 1958. At their peak in the 1960s there were 30,000; now only 5000 are remain.


The essential accompaniment to the arrival of the ice cream van is the sound of its jingle. These are like marmite; you either love them or hate them. In 1982 the Noise Abatement campaign achieved their goal of cutting the length of the jingle down to 4 seconds although recent legislation has allowed them to increase sounding out for 12 seconds. This is seen as a much-needed boost to small traders, who are in competition with large supermarkets selling Magnums and Cornettos etc. and these have almost done for the ice cream van.


During the 1950s, it was one of the best remembered pleasures of my childhood to hear the tinkling tunes of the ice cream man, that would have me running out into the street and queuing for a ‘99’. The streets were then almost devoid of cars or through traffic and I could quite innocently indulge myself with the pleasure of this occasional treat. The skill lay in pushing the flake right to the bottom of the cone and delicately licking away the ice cream before tackling the nitty-gritty, crunching the flake and the cone together with melting remnants of ice cream.


My drawing of the parked van here, waiting for the school exodus on the corner of Rhodeswell Road and Dora Street on the Lockesley Estate, Poplar, was executed in 1998. It is near to Salmon Lane where a Lollipop lady directed children across what was then, a not so busy road.


Today, I am struck how the signage on the side of the van reminds me of Pop Art.  Time and maturity have altered the view I once held about its relevance, a time when a new generation was able to interact with the bright colour and new imagery surrounding it and a testament to the expanding consumer society that emerged. Looking back, it was also a time when we seemed unthinking, not caring about where it all came from… or where it would all go once discarded or binned, these are question we would have to come to terms with later and only today are we beginning to realise the consequences. This ‘throw away culture’ was so ephemeral but its iconography could be mesmerising… as it proved for us kids and those artists exploiting it.


Recently some friends visited with their five year old granddaughter when at the sound of the jingle, her eyes lit up. I took her round the corner to buy an ice cream cornet and watched with pleasure how she gave the same focused delight to its consumption, the same delight I had been given many decades before.

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