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  03/03/2019

  The Queen's Head

Yesterday I accompanied the Gentle Author, who led a walking tour organised by the Nunnery Gallery, to revisit the locations of many of the paintings I made of the East End from 1983 to 2004. The final destination was, quite sensibly, the Queen’s Head public house. I look forward to find out from the Gentle Author whether the atmosphere has changed since I visited the lounge last year.

 

Incidentally another walk is planned for Saturday 16th March, if you would like to come and see the sites for yourself. It is necessary to book in advance and tickets can be purchased on-line from the Nunnery Gallery.

 

I first visited the Queen’s Head in June 1983 but did not paint it until 2017. I loved its Victorian location in York Square, including this pub the moment I laid eyes on them. Inside there was an old-fashioned glass domed juke-box and we used to pay 10p to listen to the likes of Queen, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen etc. Rather like the Five Bells pub in Three Colt Street, the clientele were a heady mixture of locals, bikers in black leather wearing chains and of course, artists looking frail and dishevelled in comparison with the more robust Hells’ Angels. The locals lived in the Public Bar and the rest of us inhabited the larger, more comfortably furnished lounge. The segregation was amicable and there was often cross over from one to the other. A lot of the artists and bikers lived and worked in the prefabs just around the corner in Carr Street.

 

In 1987 the Queen Mother visited the premises and famously pulled a pint of London Pride for the photographers, but I doubt if she took more than a sip. In honour of the occasion the pub was re-decorated or ‘tarted up’ for the occasion and it never again felt quite as shabbily comfortable. The pub was originally called the Queen Charlotte and was no doubt a popular venue for the skilled craftsmen and clerks to gather who lived on the Mercer’s Estate, built between 1850-70 to house artisans who worked in the area and the office clerks employed in the docks. The estate has always been maintained immaculately and I remember it as an oasis of cleanliness and tidiness in 1983. I was particularly drawn to the garden in York Square, opened to the public in 1904.

 

The recent history of the Queen’s Head is interesting and somewhat eccentric. For several years there have been attempts to close it down and build luxury flats but it seems to survive by the skin of its teeth. The latest owner is a mosque that appears to be a very good landlord leaving the licensees alone to get on with it. The mosque, it is reputed, has even refused an excessively generous purchase offer from a big development company, in order to preserve the character of the pub and the area. Whether this laissez-faire attitude is a wise move on their part is another issue. I read in the Evening Standard the other day that the pub has been threatened with closure following complaints about noise from locals and ‘lock ins’ which I thought belonged to the past. It is alleged that a member of staff was extremely rude to an under cover police officer who was investigating the complaints. I must say they don’t seem to be doing themselves any favours diplomatically, unlike the Queen Mother!