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Anthony Eyton, Artist

April 28, 2011
by the gentle author

I took the 133 bus from Liverpool St Station, travelling down South of the river to visit the eighty-eight year old painter Anthony Eyton at the elegant terrace in the Brixton Rd where has lived since 1960 – apart from a creative sojourn in Spitalfields, where he kept a studio from 1968 until 1982. It was the 133 bus that stops outside his house which brought Anthony to Spitalfields, and at first he took it every day to get to his studio. But then later, he forsook home comforts to live a bohemian existence in his garret in Hanbury St and the result was an inspired collection of paintings which exist today as testament to the particular vision Anthony found in Spitalfields.

A tall man with of mane of wiry white hair and gentle curious eyes, possessing a benign manner and natural lightness of tone, Anthony still carries a buoyant energy and enthusiasm for painting. I found him working to finish a new picture for submission to the Royal Academy before five o’clock that afternoon. Yet once I arrived off the 133, he took little persuasion to lay aside his preoccupation of the moment and talk to me about that significant destination at the other end of the bus route.

“That biggest strangest world, that whirlpool at Spitalfields, and all the several colours of the sweatshops, and the other colours of the degradation and of the beautiful antique houses derelict – I think the quality of colour was what struck me most.” replied Anthony almost in a whisper, when I asked him what drew him to Spitalfields, before he launched into a spontaneous flowing monologue evoking the imaginative universe that he found so magnetically appealing.

“From Brick Lane to Wilkes St and in between was special because it’s a kind of sanctuary.” he continued, “And looking down Wilkes St, Piero della Francesca would have liked it because it has a kind of perfection. The people going about their business are perfectly in size to the buildings. You see people carrying ladders and City girls and Jack the Ripper tours, and actors in costume outside that house in Princelet St where they make those period films, and they are all in proportion. And the market was still in use then which gave it a rough quality before the City came spilling over and building its new buildings. Always a Mecca on a Sunday. I used to think they were all coming for a religious ceremony, but it’s pure commerce, and it’s still there and it’s so large. It’s very strange to me that people give up Sunday to do that… – It’s a very vibrant area , and when Christ Church opens up for singing, the theatre of it is wonderful.”

Many years before he took a studio in Spitalfields, Anthony came to the Whitechapel Gallery to visit the memorial exhibition for Mark Gertler in 1949, another artist who also once had a studio in an old house in one of the streets leading off the market place. “Synagogues, warehouses, and Hawksmoor’s huge Christ Church, locked but standing out mightily in Commercial St, tramps eating by the gravestones in the damp church yard. “Touch” was the word that recurred,” wrote Anthony in his diary at that time, revealing the early fascination that was eventually to lead him back, to rent a loft in an eighteenth century house in Wilkes St and then subsequently to a weavers’ attic round the corner in Hanbury St where the paintings you see below were painted.

Each of these modest spaces were built as workplaces with lines of casements on either side to permit maximum light, required for weaving. Affording vertiginous views down into the quiet haven of yards between the streets where daylight bounces and reflects among high walls, these unique circumstances create the unmistakable quality of light that both infuses and characterises Anthony Eyton’s pictures which he painted in his years there. But while the light articulates the visual vocabulary of these paintings, in their subtle tones drawn from the buildings, they record elusive moments of change within a mutable space, whether the instant when a model warms herself at the fire or workmen swarm onto the roof, or simply the pregnant moment incarnated by so many open windows beneath an English sky.

Anthony’s youngest daughter, Sarah, remembers coming to visit her father as a child. “It was a bit like camping, visiting daddy’s studio,” she recalled fondly, “There were no amenities and you had to go all the way downstairs, past the door of the man below who always left a rotten fish outside, to visit the privy in the yard that was full of spiders which were so large they had faces. But it was exciting, an adventure, and I used to love drawing and doing sketches on scraps of paper that I found in his studio.”

For a few years in the midst of his long career, Spitalfields gave Anthony Eyton a refuge where he could find peace and a place packed with visual stimuli – and then two years ago, a quarter of a century after he left, Anthony returned. Frances Milat who was born and lived in the house in Hanbury St came back from Australia to stage a reunion of all the tenants from long ago. It was the catalyst for a set of circumstances which led to an invitation to show the works in Spitalfields that he painted here so long ago, and that in turn prompted Anthony to revisit and do new drawings in these narrow streets which, over all this time, have become inextricable with his identity as an artist.

You can see Anthony Eyton’s paintings at 11 Spitalfields in Princelet St from 5th – 28th May.

Christine, 1976/8. - “She was very keen that the cigarette smoke and grotty ashtray should be in the picture to bring me down to earth.”

Liverpool St Station, mid-seventies.

Studio interior, 1977.

Back of Princelet St, 1980

Girl by the fire, 1978.

Workers on the roof, 1980

Open window, Spitalfields, 1976.

Anthony Eyton working in his Hanbury St studio, a still from a television documentary of 1980.

Wilkes St, 2011

Fournier St from Banglatown, 2011

Pictures copyright © Anthony Eyton

Watch a film of Anthony Eyton in his extraordinary garden here.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. JohnB permalink
    April 28, 2011

    Eyton’s portrayal of Liverpool Street Station chimes with my dream about disappearing through holes in the wall there, which I made on your “At Liverpool St Station” post. The slightly surrealist imagery must catch at something in our mutual subconscious, maybe there’s something of the artist in me!

  2. Joan permalink
    April 29, 2011

    We have a Tate gallery postcard of one of Antony Eyton’s Spitalfield’s window paintings on our mantelpiece. The colours are beautiful. Love the link to the Alys Fowler video. Thank you.

    Joan

  3. July 16, 2011

    Dear Anthony,

    Hope your well.

    My name is Nicola Agyeman Frimpong.

    I’m graduating with an Master’s of Fine Art in Wimbledeon on Monday.
    I’m also a figurative artist I was wondering if you were interested in helping me please?

    I am from the AACDD (The African and African-Caribbean Design) Diaspora an initiative headed by Karin Beate Phillips from the British European Design Group.

    Our aim is to help promote British/ Black artit’s and designers in the UK to give them a unique opportunity to showcase their work.
    We have various shows taking place in southbank during the month of September which will conincide with design festival.

    Thank you
    Please feel three to invite guest to our show

    We have a website please feel free to check us out!

    Thank you

    Best Wishes,

    Nicola

  4. Pandora Butterfield permalink
    October 8, 2011

    Dear Mr Eyton,
    I was collecting a pastel from the Mall gallery last spring and on my way home to Suffolk, when I spotted you doing a drawing in Liverpool St station. You were perfectly charming to talk too and invited me to your show at Chris Dyson the architects.
    I took my father along to see your exhibition and it was truly superb. To see such painterly expressive paintings was a joy, and I thank you for what was a memorable start of a day with my father.
    Kind regards,
    Pandora Butterfield

  5. April 2, 2012

    Great to see these areas from my childhood depicted through these pictures of Anthony’s. Thanks so much for bringing it to everyone’s attention, I have to admit to my ignorance at not being aware of Anthony’s work in this area. I am so glad I chose to click on your link!!
    I am covering the area artistically myself at present and its great to see other interpretations of a very special and unique place. Can see Anthony really gets the uniqueness also.
    Thanks again, I look forward to your mails now I am a subscriber.

  6. Donna Day Maas permalink
    August 7, 2012

    My husband, Willem Maas, and I became friends of Tony’s and Mary’s back in the ’50s. Mary and I went to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario together and took our first trip to England together where Mary met Tony.

    In our family we have two of Tony’s big paintings from that time. Ours is of the white church with the Marx Library in the foreground and our son’s, which did belong to Franki Kennedy, is of the garden at the Brixton house. Both were bought from Tony himself at Brixton Road.

    We would like to get in touch personally with Tony or Jane but have no email address and have forgotten the Brixton Road one. It has been more than 50 years!

    Please send me either an email or street address so that we can correspond.

    Sincerely,
    Donna E. Maas

  7. Nicholas Wade permalink
    October 18, 2014

    Anthony,Tony,
    This is Nicholas Wade who was in an art History class which you taught in Kingston Ontario
    in 1971.
    Between yourself, Brad Holland, Robert van de Peer, and David Perkins, I was convinced that art could be a career. Dennis Allen and I saw you in London in 1972 and were delighted to be able to visit you in a pub in south London.
    I am happy to have had the benefit of my encounters with such a dedicated painter. and
    one who’s voice and message carries all the sensibility of a complex and delicate experience of
    life , looking, and response.all the best to you in the future.

    Nicholas

  8. Donna banks permalink
    September 18, 2016

    Mr Eyton I have a piece of artwork ‘what to do about it tony’ exhibited 1980 Royal academy , I’m trying to find out more about it and it’s history . If anybody could help please

  9. Patrick Mahoney permalink
    December 20, 2016

    Tony,
    I’ve finally somewhat tracked you down. Hopefully this will actually find its way to you and perhaps you’ll find the time to reply.

    I studied under you in Kingston. You mentored me. It was indeed a magical time. You took my entire collection of works for viewing to the Royal Academy as criteria for my admission to the Royal Academy. I was accepted conditionally as long as I was successful at the Byam Shaw.
    Alas, my works were stolen from your van, it was a dark time for us both and following I could not get funding from the Canada Council of Arts. It was what it was Tony and you did your best on my behalf. Thank you.

    I am so grateful that you are alive and well and continue to paint. You’re in your 90′s and me, my late 60′s. After overcoming many challenging life events, I wanted you to know that as of November 2016, I have begun to paint again. My works have been well accepted. I never lost the passion and love for painting that you instilled and nurtured within me.

    You continue to inspire me. Thank you Tony with hugs and love.
    Patrick

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