Noel Gibson, Painter
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
Images courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives
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