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 10/02/2019
Mother & Child, Plaistow
When I was teaching in Tower Hamlets, once or twice a term I would fill in endless forms and carry out risk assessments in order to be able to take students to art galleries or museums in Central London. Initially, in the early nineties, I was astonished how many of the young people, mostly Muslim, had not been west of Whitechapel. They were entering another country after passing Tower Bridge on the number 15 bus, their youthful bravura and confidence evaporating as they carefully stuck close to my colleagues and myself. We tried over the years to encourage exploration of other areas of London and planned as many outings as possible but the bureaucracy involved increased at a greater pace than our enthusiasm. Health and Safety won the day and I fear it may still be the case, though thankfully I am now away from all that.
Like many who have spent their adult lives in the capital, I have never learned to drive; it sometimes horrifies friends as to how an intelligent mature person in this day and age can manage without the basic skill of driving. The truth is, a car was not totally necessary in London then, as public transport was not so costly and was far cheaper than running a motor vehicle. For the 23 years I lived in Clemence Street, we had no car and managed with relative ease using the infrastructure of the underground, buses and rail to get about town. Today however, having re-established my studio practice, I would be hard pressed in coping without a car for transporting both materials and paintings, especially as I have the services of a reliable chauffer… my husband.
When artists moved into the area during the seventies a great swathe of the local population were moving out and the new immigrant communities were yet to become fully established. Heavy industry had declined dramatically and the impact of the clean air act on both domestic and industrial coal burning was having a considerable effect on ‘visible pollution’. My husband, from Canning Town, whose family were dock labourers, can remember the smog up to the early 1960s but by the end of the decade, this was receding into memory. He recalls a conversation with a retired lorry driver about how he and his colleagues recognised they were approaching Bow during a ‘pea souper’, by using the odour of the Yardley cosmetics factory situated on Carpenters Road. This gave out a sweet aroma completely out of character with traffic fumes and pollution associated with the surrounding industrial environment.
Eventually, the incoming artists would take over this Yardley’s site, turning them into studios. I remember the building and corridors permeated by a faint perfume of flowers. They must have been the sweetest smelling studios in London, if not the world.
A previous generation of artists we now know as the East London Group, the Steggles brothers, Henry Silk, Elwin Hawthorne, had painted this same area between the wars, and many of their paintings contain a diffused luminosity perhaps brought on by the atmosphere of smoke and grime pervading the east end. By the time I encountered the locality it was the clarity of light that attracted me first and foremost and, unlike many of my contemporaries moving in, whose concerns were based around more modernist cultural criteria, maybe conceptualism, maybe abstraction, I was always grounded in observation. Even representational painters at the time seemed locked into ‘systems’ like the cool, measured approach of the Slade school.
I felt that I was able to look on buildings and street corners with both familiar and fresh eyes. Familiar, because I had witnessed the effects of industrial decline with my west midlands background; fresh because I was stepping into a terrain I felt was different from other parts of London.