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Noel Gibson, Painter

February 2, 2012
by the gentle author

Railway footbridge at Poplar

You have only just a week – until 9th February – to catch the revelatory exhibition of Noel Gibson’s East London Street Scenes at the Tower Hamlets Local History & Archives in Bancroft Rd, which rediscovers an important painter from the nineteen seventies whose work has not been displayed for twenty-five years. These large paintings need to be seen in the gallery to fully appreciate the quality of impasto, with vivid black lines standing out in relief from the canvas and vigorous textures created with a palette knife, imparting a dramatic presence to these soulful visions.

Noel Gibson lived in the East End from 1962 until 1974 and the paintings in this show are the outcome of this period. Born in 1928 in Glasgow, Gibson originally trained as an opera singer and then became House Manger at the London Opera Centre based in the Troxy Cinema in Commercial Rd where he lived in a flat at the top of the building. A self-taught artist, he painted in the evenings after work.

“I began as an abstract painter but when I came to Stepney, I found paintings on my doorstep. Though I think there’s still a quiet abstract quality to my paintings. I am trying to express the spirit of the buildings, the strength of them and the people who were there. This is why I don’t put people into my paintings. People turn them into an episode with a background – but I am painting the background! I love these buildings. I walk the dog and I look at them at different times of day and in different weathers, and I keep going back. In a way I am making a record of a changing, I wouldn’t say a dying area, but often I go back to check up on a detail, a colour and a whole street has gone.” Gibson said in an interview in the Times in 1972.

Immensely successful in his day, enjoying acclaim and sell-out shows – one of which at St Botolph’s in Bishopsgate  was opened by Tubby Isaac the jellied eel king – Noel Gibson was featured on BBC’s “Nationwide,” a popular current affairs programme in 1972. In 1974, he moved to South London, working at Morley College and appointed Provost’s Verger at Southwark Cathedral, yet in 1985 he admitted, “I regard Tower Hamlets as the area of inspiration for my work and I will always return to it.”

Noel Gibson died in 2006 and this collection of paintings, originally bought by Tower Hamlets Council in 1970 to be shown in public buildings, came to light when the borough’s art collection was being photographed – inspiring Anna Haward to curate this beautiful show that recovers a major painter of the recent, yet already distant, East End.

Hessel St - “If this street were in Paris, everyone would have wanted to paint it.”

Brick Lane, looking north towards the Truman Brewery

St Anne’s, Limehouse

St John’s Tower

Small Red House in Bow

Street Scene in Poplar

The Victory in Poplar

Chilton St, Spitalfields

Tower House, Fieldgate St, Whitechapel

Arbour Sq

Noel Gibson

Images courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives

You may also like to read about Marc Gooderam, Painter

21 Responses leave one →
  1. Annie permalink
    February 2, 2012

    Lovely paintings – I really like the style

  2. Ree permalink
    February 2, 2012

    His work is powerful…magical…

  3. February 2, 2012

    Wonderful: so evocative of urban England and London in particular. I particularly like the abstract quality of the painting of Chilton Street.

  4. joan permalink
    February 2, 2012

    Thank you for this. I’m going to make a real effort to get to this exhibition. I well remember the Troxy when it was the London Opera Centre. It was just across the Commercial Road from our flats and it seemed a very posh thing to have round our way. I wonder if there are any memoirs written of that period of the Troxy’s existence. I know that Kiri Te Kanawa studied there. I also remember going to a fantastic sale of stage costumes they held there – all too expensive for my pocket money, unfortunately!

    Best wishes,

    Joan

  5. February 2, 2012

    Just in love.

  6. February 2, 2012

    Thankyou for highlighting this artist. The paintings are wonderful and I would like to live in the ‘little red house at Bow’!How sad, that he died so young.
    I am new to your blog, my sister introduced me to it, and I think it is totally fascinating. What a wonderful piece of social history it is. I gave you a little mention on my blog today. Love Linda.

  7. Chris F permalink
    February 2, 2012

    When you think of how much joy we get from viewing art (In all of its various styles ), it always saddens me that so much is kept from us. Hidden away in basements or storerooms & for the main part forgotten or unappreciated. It’s about time that we had a national register of art with everything in public ownership catalogued and viewable on-line. Take this artwork as a case in point…. On show till the 9th Feb… and then what? Back in storage? Until when?

  8. Hilary permalink
    February 3, 2012

    What wonderful paintings,I had never heard of this artist before.
    The Public Catalogue Foundation is making a start to bring unseen works in public ownership to a wider audience.(More details on their website)

  9. Anna H permalink
    February 3, 2012

    The library has indeed recently had all it’s oil paintings photographed by the Public Catalogue Foundation – including these Noel Gibsons – and these will soon be available to view online:
    http://www.thepcf.org.uk/your_paintings

  10. Ruby Kay permalink*
    February 4, 2012

    My Dad used to drink in that pub on the left ‘The Rose & Crown’. I passed the Red House many times as a child. Thanks for the wonderful trip back in time. Love it!!

  11. February 4, 2012

    These are great. Will try and get along before this exhibition closes. Love your blog and am looking forward to the book!!

  12. Helen Curtis permalink
    February 4, 2012

    Wonderful paintings. So vivid ! Thank you for bringing them to our notice. Will definitely come along to the exhibition.

  13. Andrew Leftwich permalink
    February 11, 2012

    Hi,
    My father worked as house engineer at the LOC in the late 60′s early 70′s & as a teen/twenty year old I often called at the Centre & met Mr Gibson.

    For my 21st he gave me a pencil sketch of a street off Commercial Rd (I think), & on my mothers death I inherited a large oil on board by palette knife of nearby docks, cranes & the Thames, which has hung on our walls for 30 years, & until recently I had not appreciated it’s significance.

    It was great to see his other artwork, as I had not realised how much he produced.

    thank you
    Andrew Leftwich

  14. Anna Haward permalink
    March 28, 2012

    Paintings from the collections of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives – including these Noel Gibsons – are now accessible online! Please follow the below link to view them:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/galleries/locations/tower-hamlets-local-history-library-and-archives-6504

    Anna

  15. Natasha Watson permalink
    March 31, 2012

    I currently have 2 Noel Gibson paintings which I would like to sell. Does anyone know where I could sell them or anyone who would like to buy them?
    My Great Uncle, who also was originally from Glasgow, was very friendly with Noel and gave my mother some of his paintings.
    My mother met him a several occassions in her childhood.

    Natasha Watson
    nats79@hotmail.co.uk

  16. Piroska Pataki permalink
    April 9, 2012

    I like this pictures. Though I be there. I’m from Hungary, I was in Spitalfield 4 times, and I love this streets, houses, and the atmosphere. Thank you.

  17. ceeli (sullivan) permalink
    July 4, 2012

    Knew Noel for brief time in early 60′s. He painted and gave my fiance and I a beautiful interpretation of the London Thames at sunset. Its huge, with barges, cranes, etc. stunning colours. This site showed me how prolific he was, and his love of the East End that I recall as a child. I grew up in Johnson Street, Stepney his painting (of that name) just blew me away, silly, but I cried when I saw it. He captured those lovely, crumbly buildings and places that the ‘slum clearance’ of the 1970′s destroyed. Thank you for an emotional, but glorious experience.

  18. September 3, 2012

    Very belated comment but I went to see this exhibition in February and the paintings were absolutely fantastic and completely capture the atmosphere of how East London was during the period Noel was painting.

  19. Anna Haward permalink
    October 19, 2012

    Having curated this exhibition in January 2012 it is wonderful to still read such moving and personal comments on the paintings. We at the library, who hosted the original exhibition, would dearly love to show the paintings again on a touring basis. If you know of any suitable venue please do get in touch via anna.haward@towerhamlets.gov.uk. Many thanks.

    Anna Haward
    Heritage Officer – Learning and Participation
    Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives

  20. jeff permalink
    April 23, 2013

    great
    A little like Lautrec for me – who I like
    Would love to see some modern developments painted in the same style and some of todays generations in a poplar context
    good work

  21. July 8, 2015

    I have a painting by Noel Gibson. It has different types of flowers, birds and butterflies in it. It came in a gold frame that has flowers on the corners and middle of the edges. I got it at a church sale very very economically.
    I didn’t see it in this web sight.
    Does anyone know the painting I am talking about?
    Sincerely
    Rebecca Haddock

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