Now and Then

I am delighted to present  ‘Now and Then’ an exhibition by a group of artists living and working in the East End of London in the spirit of the original East London Group of artists active from the 1920’s.

The recent resurgence of interest in the history of the East End of London has been demonstrated by the extraordinary success of  ‘Spitalfields Life’ and the campaigns to preserve such buildings as The Marquis of Lansdowne, precisely because they reflect the way in which ordinary people lived their lives.

In the 1930’s a group of artists were inspired to record the stark beauty of Whitechapel, Bow and Stratford as recounted by David Buckman in his ‘From Bow to Biennale’ published recently and now a new group of artists has been similarly inspired to record these streets as they undergo the upheavals of gentrification and re-generation. We are fortunate to be able to show some of the original East London Group’s works alongside that of the new group in the forthcoming exhibition and also to be able to include some works by Anthony Eyton who had a studio in Spitalfields from 1968 – 1982 and who forms the perfect link between the two groups.

A Visit to Anthony Eyton

I had an unexpected treat when I visited Anthony Eyton to collect the paintings and drawings which are going to be included in ‘Now and Then’, an exhibition of current figurative artists living and working in the East End opening here on the 28th November. Anthony is no longer living in Spitalfields, but he had a studio in Hanbury Street at the end of the 60’s, when he was drawn to Spitalfields and Whitechapel by the noise, colour and vibrancy of the area.

He had managed to get most of the paintings together, but was still unable to find a couple, so that meant a lot of rummaging through stacked up paintings, looking for the elusive ones. Nothing nicer I think, because of course we discussed the paintings we came across as we searched, in a much more companionable way than you’d expect given that I hadn’t met him before.  We were drawn together for the time being by the magic of seeing old friends for him, and the magic of seeing the many facets of his work for the first time for me.

This painting, from his studio in Hanbury Street in 1981, encapsulates for me his view of the East End at the time. No sky, just an overwhelming sense of buildings one after the other, run-down, but not depressing.  A sense of lives lived on top of each other, but where someone has made a tiny patch of green amongst the endless brick.  His is a gaze of great fondness for the city and although his paintings in the exhibition are mainly about the buildings, you sense a great love of life at the heart of them all.

 

A Mudlark and his Dog

My email box is unusually exciting at the moment as I’m being sent lots of images by the artists taking part in the New East London Group exhibition ‘Now and Then’ at Town House from 28th November – 8th December. The exhibition sets a group of six artists living and working in the East End now alongside some works of the original East London Group from the 1930’s and some works by Anthony Eyton working in the area from the 1960’s.

 

I love this etching of a mudlark and his dog, which arrived from Joanna Moore recently. At first it was the visual appeal of the sketching and the rapid strokes that convey the repetitive movement of man and dog as they search for ‘treasure’, almost resolving into a pattern. Yet it soon reminded me of an article I read recently about the artist Simon Ling, shortly to appear in an exhibition at the Tate, who also likes to work outside and whose intense focus is such that a detail becomes everything. I realised that Joanna is doing something similar in this etching, but focusing on the event rather than the object.

 

The etching comprises a series of sketches made as she watched the mudlark and his dog, but combined into one image as they are here, they analyse the event over a period of time so that we can view it from every angle. Not only does it convey the closely focused, minutely choreographed movement of the mudlark as he works, but we also understand the close relationship between man and dog much better than we would from a single sketch.

I Want to Make Memories with You

When Zero Lubin first suggested their exhibition ‘I Want to Make Memories With You’ and showed me some of the amazing silk handkerchiefs in their collection it instantly took me back to my childhood and the pile of hankies that sat in my drawer. The more boring ones were used, but the others, which I liked most, were kept and occasionally used as dolls’ tablecloths or scarves – I think they are probably still sitting in a drawer somewhere at the moment – I have never quite been able to get rid of them.

 

Now they seem like something from a lost age of innocence, a memory of my childhood that my children probably wouldn’t understand, as I don’t think handkerchiefs have been given as presents in the same way for a long while. But where would we be in books and old films without hankies: being handed a tissue to wipe away the tears is just not the same!

 

Zero Lubin’s hankies have a modern twist though, who can resist the added ‘Dress Like a

 Girl, Punch Like a Hammer’ or ‘I Want to Run Away and Join the Circus’ – definitely not sentiments that would have been thought suitable to be given to me all those years ago. And the exhibition here, in a building, which was used for much of its early life by weavers, seems particularly poignant.  The handkerchiefs were primarily made in Macclesfield, a town that benefited from the industrialization of weaving which ended that trade  here in Spitalfields.

 

So I hope you will be able to visit the exhibition and enjoy your memories in the gallery here from 19th -29th September 2013, Monday to Friday 11 – 6 Weekends 11 – 5

A Visit to Jonathan Garratt’s

I first met Jonathan Garratt two years ago. We were travelling to a festival and had failed to find anywhere for lunch, so the sign ‘cream teas’ as we drove through a village proved irresistible.  I had been looking for some pottery to sell in the shop for some time, but hadn’t been able to find anything that felt right, but when I saw Jonathan’s pottery in the shop next door I knew that this was the potter I had been looking for. I ‘phoned him, music blaring in the background, and arranged to go and see him the next day. He lives in Dorset in an 18th century thatched house with barns, in which he has built his kiln, surrounding a beautiful planted courtyard. I came away with a carload and have been selling his pottery ever since.

 

So it is always a pleasure to visit him and see what he has been making and I went again this Friday, forgetting that it was the first of the big summer holiday travelling weekends! So I arrived hot, tired and very hungry, but was greeted with his usual hospitality and a perfect summer lunch of mackerel with a wonderful salad of his homegrown vegetables. After that and a tour of his vegetable garden I felt completely restored.

 

On that first day that I visited him we quickly discovered that his father had been a dealer who knew my father and as they did the same fairs, I recognized his name, but couldn’t really remember him.

He has just made the sculpture you see in the photograph using his father’s shoes as moulds for the line of feet, which Jonathan has used to suggest the ongoing generations and which is an expression of hope and optimism on his part. Unfortunately the courtyard at Town House is too small to include his sculpture, but it works beautifully punctuating the planting in his courtyard.

 

The journey home was just as horrendous, but the couple of hours with Jonathan and his wife and the new things I brought back made it all worthwhile.

Life and Death in Spitalfields

Until about 1830 Fournier Street in Spitalfields was called Church Street and in a spare moment last year I googled my address as it was then: 30 Church Street. To my surprise a result from a trade directory was first on the list, referring to Richard Ball, weaver, living here in 1794, and a resident of the building previously unknown to me. Unable to find any further information on him, I filed it away as another piece in the jigsaw of who has lived here for the past three centuries.

In an extraordinary coincidence a few months later I picked up a second-hand copy of ‘Life and Death in Spitalfields 1700 to 1850’ written about the excavation of the crypt in Christ Church and published in 1996. One of the vaults examined was the Ball family, specifically Mary and Martha who died in 1819 and 1821, aged 47 and 70 respectively – but no Richard. I assume, however, that these were his wife and daughter. I have since discovered that Richard Ball seems to have been in partnership with Stephen Sorel, forming the firm Sorel and Ball, weavers and silk merchants of Church Street, which was active c1770 – 1790.

So I am very much looking forward to the talk taking place on the 16th April in Christ Church on these excavations, part of the Huguenots of Spitalfields festival (8th – 21st April). Not that I think the Ball family will feature, but I’ll know a bit more about their lives in Spitalfields as I imagine them weaving in the attic here. The photo is one of the plates from Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness, 1746 and shows weavers with their tall looms, the cut-out for which was found during the work that took place here ten years ago and which survives to this day in the attic ceiling.

At the end of the day

I bought these 19th century wine cups from Hungary recently, attracted by the wonderful patterns and colours and by the obvious years of use. I always fall for blue and yellow and especially stripes. One has been so cherished that the words ‘ restored in 1963′ have been carefully written on the base and I have visions of this being handed down, father to son as a family heirloom – apparently they are still treasured today. It makes me think of the inns and smaller drinking places that form such a colourful part of the long lost world of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s extraordinary travelogue that captivated me last year, a world of rural life that probably ended each day with one of these in the hand.

A Cabinet of Curiosities

This is a cabinet of curiosities that isn’t. It is a bookcase into which I placed some smaller items of stock when I was moving things around for the arrival of the coffee machine earlier this year. Small objects, more self-consciously curiosities, had been in it previously and sold, but this time I was in a hurry and in need of somewhere to put things. So instead of selecting and arranging carefully I just put the things in: all have been moved around several times for various reasons, each time in a hurry. Yet the odd thing is that it doesn’t seem to make a difference to how people view the cabinet, mostly finding it fascinating, which has made me wonder why.
Placing the objects in a cabinet seems to take them out of context and makes us look at them in a new way, as though in a museum. There are some animal or mineral curiosities in there, but most are man-made and when I look at the photograph many are, to our modern eyes, slightly curious: a tea brick made for transport by sea, a pocket globe for carrying around, an unusual money box or a snuff box. Rather than being curiosities of a strange new world these are curious because they belong to a past world that is completely unfamiliar, rather like looking at an old faded photograph that initially looks recognisable and then being surprised at how much has changed.
In the past these cabinets were created to display to their audience wondrous man-made or natural objects of a world that was still being discovered. Now, perhaps, the wonder in looking at this lies in how much we have changed.

Cup cake flowers

Saturday was cup cake day in the shop. We gathered at 10.30 to be taught how to decorate them by Lisa who has a passion for making them and baking in general. She supports the Spitalfields Crypt Trust and we offered a donation to the charity in return for a day’s tuition in cake decorating. I have a collection of 18th and 19th century hand written recipe books, which we are going to use to make the cakes to serve with the coffee arriving downstairs in the kitchen area of the shop in about a month. So cup cakes seem like a good idea too: there is something irresistible about these brightly coloured jewels. In the space of three and a half hours we made and decorated nearly two hundred of them and if you had told me at the beginning that we would be able to decorate the cakes that are in the photo I would have laughed and told you that it would be completely impossible. Nevertheless there they are and they created quite a stir as they appeared in the window of the shop so that by 2pm we had a queue forming and by 5pm we had sold out and raised nearly £200 for the charity. Thank you if you bought one and thanks to Lisa, we had a lot of fun.

Le Mans brocante

I set off early on Wednesday morning: up at 5am in France (4am as far as I was concerned), to go with friends to the ‘brocante’ at Le Mans. I hadn’t been to it for a long while– it’s not much fun going on your own, struggling up at that time of the morning, driving for an hour and a half and then fighting for a parking space in the middle of a muddy field, so I was looking forward to going with the others. Of course once we arrived and had a quick cup of espresso to warm up, it was down to work and then you’re on your own: unspoken etiquette demands that you separate and go your own way to avoid the difficulties of everyone wanting the same thing. So it’s first come first served until the initial rush is over and then everyone meets up for another coffee and to compare notes.

I’m told that I’m very fussy about what I buy…..and there were lots of attractive things which, on the whole, weren’t as outrageously priced as I had expected. But it has to be something I love, for one reason or another and this dish from Provence was one of them. Partly it is the shape; I have two plates in the shop at the moment with the same glaze, so I was pleased to find a serving dish. Then there is the colour: such a suggestion of summer warmth against which any food would look good. But one food sprang to mind as soon as I saw it – asparagus. It’s not only that English asparagus is delicious, but the fact that it is only around for such a short time heightens my anticipation. And it is soon followed by broad beans, peas and all the other harbingers of summer. More than anything else though, it is the fact that asparagus would look perfect against the warm yellow of this glaze. If I haven’t sold it I’ll take a photograph to show you.