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John Allin, Artist

April 9, 2012
by the gentle author

Gun St, Spitalfields

John Allin (1934-1991) began painting while serving a six month prison sentence for minor theft, and achieved considerable success in the sixties and seventies with his vivid intricate pictures recalling the East End of his childhood. There is a dreamlike quality to these visions in sharp focus of an emotionalised cityscape, created at a time when the Jewish people were leaving to seek better housing in the suburbs and their culture was fading from those streets which had once been its home.

Returning from National Service in the Merchant Navy, Allin worked in the parks department planting trees, later as a swimming pool attendant and then as a long distance lorry driver – all before his conviction and imprisonment. After discovering his artistic talent, he devoted himself to painting and won attention with his first exhibition in 1969 at the Portal Gallery, specialising in primitive and outsider art. In 1974, he collaborated with Arnold Wesker on a book of reminiscence, “Say Goodbye: You may never see them again” in which he reveals an equivocation about the East End. “I saw it as a place where people lived, earned their living, grew up, moved on … they had dignity … I like painting the past with dignity…” he said in an interview with Wesker, “but what they’ve done to the East End is diabolical! They’ve scuppered it, built and built and torn down and torn out and took lots of identity away and made it into just a concrete nothing… But people go on, don’t they? Eating their eels and giving their custom where they’ve always given their custom … Funny how people can go on and take anything and everything.”

Like Joe Orton in the theatre, Allin’s reputation as an ex-con fuelled his reputation in newspapers and on television but he found there was a price to pay, as he revealed to Wesker, “You know how I started painting don’t you? In prison! Well, when I come out the kids at school give my kid a rough time … the silly bloody journalists didn’t help. ‘Jail-bird becomes painter!’ You’d've thought I’d done God knows what … I mean the neighbours used to say things like ‘Look at ‘im! Jail-bird and he’s on telly! Ought to be sent back inside the nick!’ I was the oddity in the district, the lazy fat bastard that paints. Give me a half a chance and I’d move mate.” In fact, Allin joined Gerry Cottle’s Circus, touring as a handyman to create another book, “John Allin’s Circus Life” in 1982.

Although he was the first British recipient of the international Prix Suisse de Peinture Naive award in 1979, the categorisation of Outsider or Primitive artist is no longer adequate to apply to John Allin. Twenty years after his death, his charismatic paintings deserve to be recognised as sophisticated works which communicate an entire social world through an unapologetically personal and emotionally charged visual vocabulary.

Spitalfields Market, Brushfield St.

Great Synagogue, Brick Lane.

Jewish Soup Kitchen, Brune St.

Christ Church School, Brick Lane.

Heneage St and Brick Lane.

Rothschild Dwellings, Spitalfields.

Whitechapel Rd.

Christ Church Park, Commmercial St.

Wentworth St.

Fashion St with gramophone man in the foreground..

Churchill Walk.

Young Communist League rally, corner of Brick Lane and Old Montague St.

Hessel St.

Snow Scene.

Anti-Fascist Rally at Gardiners’ Corner, 1936.

Cole’s Chicken Shop, Cobb St.

Factory Workers.

You may also like to look at

Alfred Daniels, Artist

Noel Gibson, Artist

Dan Jones’ Paintings

Mark Gooderham, Artist

50 Responses leave one →
  1. April 9, 2012

    Very attractive pictures – my favourite one is of Hessel Street.

  2. Judy permalink
    April 9, 2012

    Beautiful!!! Thank you!

  3. Jill permalink
    April 9, 2012

    These are charming records of London life; thank you for cheering up a wet Bank Holiday. The Portal Gallery, which you say gave John his first exhibition, also represented Beryl Cook.

  4. Peter permalink
    April 9, 2012

    Some great paintings

  5. Jill permalink
    April 9, 2012

    Gentle Author, where can we see Allin’s work?

  6. Gary permalink
    April 9, 2012

    Fantastic detail and an accurate record of shops and buildings now gone. It brings back memories of traders we once dealt with long ago. Maxwell Bagwash, they also had a shop in Lyal Road, Bow. Bagwash was the poor mans laundry, you put all of your wash in a cloth bag, it was washed together and returned in the bag still wet, people then hung it up to dry and ironed it. The better off clients had best wash where it came back dried and ironed.
    Gary

  7. Pam Smith permalink
    April 9, 2012

    Fantastic pictures which I am sure will bring a lot of memories back too many people . Thanks again Gentle Author for showing me a collection of beautiful paintings which I probably would never have seen . My favourite is Rothwell Dwellings and would look very nice in my house……..

  8. John Campbell permalink
    April 9, 2012

    Thanks for introducing me to these wonderful paintings. Reminded me very much of Alasdair Gray’s Glasgow street scenes. What a wonderful blog this is, thanks again!

  9. Sharon Allin permalink
    April 11, 2012

    Dear Gentle Author, I am the Daughter of John Allin. My attention was brought to your blog by a friend who sent me the link. I want to thank you for the most wonderful, complimentary comments you have made about my Dad. He was a lovely man who should have gained more notoriety for his paintings than he did when he was alive. He was a larger than life character, & we still miss him dearly 20 years on. You truly have done your research about him, which really impressed me. Many people who write about my Dad don’t really do their homework properly, so it was so nice to see that everything you wrote was not only correct, but in perfect chronological order. On behalf of my Me, my Mother & Daughter, I want to say ‘thank you’, once again, for the wonderful piece that you have written about my Dad. Please feel free to email me if there is anything I can do to help you. Best wishes, Sharon, Phillis & Casey Allin.

  10. Ron Pummell permalink
    April 13, 2012

    Dear Gentle Author, what a lovely message to receive from the Allin Family, surviving families are often overlooked when ‘past works’ are discussed. I grew up in Bethnal Green, as were my parents, but have only been following John Allin for about 15 years. I have just ordered your book. Please keep up the good work. Best Wishes, Ron Pummell.

  11. Cherub permalink
    April 13, 2012

    Really charming artwork, I especially like Brushfield St and the Market as I used to love scouring for second hand books and things. Happy days!

  12. Adrienne permalink
    April 14, 2012

    Really lovely paintings. Mr A had such a talent and feel for his subject matter. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Terry permalink
    April 18, 2012

    Thank you for the fine display of John’s work. He was a friend and I own five of his original oils, bought in the sixties and seventies, plus a set of the prints. They all still delight me after all these years!

  14. Mark permalink
    April 20, 2012

    Absolutely love these. Can anyone give any clues as to where we might be able to view them, or better still, buy prints. Can’t find any leads on the internet. Thanks.

  15. delattre permalink
    April 23, 2012

    pouvez vous me dire s’il y a un livre publié sur les peintures de john allin, et me donner les references
    merci

  16. Joan permalink
    May 7, 2012

    What a wonderful gift to Spitalfields.

  17. jenny permalink
    June 22, 2012

    These paintings are wonderful. Is there any information about “S ay goodbye”?

  18. August 26, 2012

    Please can you give me information where these prints can be purchased I am if poss looking for a particular print

  19. Claire permalink
    September 22, 2012

    Terry, you are a very lucky man! I first saw a couple of John Allin’s paintin g whilst searching out images of old Whitechapel. I really love them. As I couldn’t find any reference to sale of prints anywhere, all I could do was download and save the image and print them off as a postcard sized photo which I do have out. These paintings are really very special and I do hope the family or someone can organise them to be reproduced. I am sure they would sell as quick as the freshly baked beigels of Brick Lane!
    Please let me know if and when prints are available.
    Kindest regards, Claire

  20. Philip Napier-Ford permalink
    November 10, 2012

    Interesting reading!

    My late father bought a number of John Allin originals in his later life as an art consultant which may well be of interest to the right organisation as subjects for limited reproduction!

  21. Michael Hrebeniak permalink
    November 15, 2012

    A terrific article, for which many thanks. John Allin’s work has real energy & understanding–he deserves to be better known. I bought the framed artist’s proof of the Wentworth Street print (signed) some time ago, which means that I’ve now a second copy. Should this be of interest to anyone, I’d be more than happy to hear!

  22. les wynn permalink
    January 28, 2013

    I have a folio of 8 prints “Stepney Streets” by John Allin words by Arnold Wesker.
    In 1975 an edition 250 sets were hand screen printed by Bernard Cook of White Ink Studios.
    The sets were all signed by the artist, the text page signed by Arnold Wesker
    I had the pleasure of meeting John Allin & Arnold Wesker when we were privileged to print the lithographic text pages & the opportunity to purchase folio No. 8 which I still have & treasure.
    The paintings are so vivid & alive and recreate for me the memory of the East End where I was born and lived for 65 years, I now live in Essex.
    My thanks & gratitude to this wonderful Artist who has left us such a great legacy.
    With regards & thanks
    Les Wynn

  23. Samantha Regan permalink
    February 12, 2013

    I have a portfolio of John Allin, Stepney Streets including the original hard back carry folder, prints, all in excellent condition, wanted to know where any one would recommend to sell them.
    If someone can get back in touch asap, that would be amazing!

    Thanks

  24. Judy permalink
    February 14, 2013

    Dear Samantha, i would be interested in the prints , or at least some of them if you wanted to sell them.
    Judy

  25. vivienne anderson permalink
    March 14, 2013

    I have a signed print of Wentworth Street in excellent condition. How do I ascertain it’s worth. I do not know whether to send it to auction or post it on ebay!

  26. Ron Pummell permalink
    March 24, 2013

    I enjoy all Allin’s works.

  27. Michael Medalyer permalink
    March 28, 2013

    Samantha – I, too, would be interested in acquiring some of John Allin’s work. I grew up in the East End during the 50′s, my grandmother lived in Hessel Street and his paintings bring back such happy memories. Please let me know how to contact you. Mike M

  28. Sam permalink
    March 30, 2013

    I am sure that the picture of spitalfield market includes my Dad as he worked for Percy Dalton whose stand is shown in the picture

  29. harry bergliter permalink
    March 30, 2013

    my brother printed a lot of his work when he was working for Gand B arts

  30. stuart levinson permalink
    April 18, 2013

    Check out the facebook website the jewish east end if you are nostalgic about everything East End… 600 members and over 550 photos including many of Hessel St, the clubs, shuls and schools

  31. June 20, 2013

    Dear Gentle Author, love this blog (even before you did a piece on my dad Eddie and our old pub the Two Puddings!) but love it even more to find this piece on the great John Allin. For many years I’ve treasured my copy of ‘Say Goodbye…’ and frequently pore over these wonderful images. Especially poignant for me as my late mum knew many of the locations.

  32. September 4, 2013

    Fantastis paintings, he really shows the spirit of the places. Valerie

  33. paul wright permalink
    September 21, 2013

    Hi,

    Have just posted one his paintings on e bay,

    feel this painting belongs in London,

    His work is so alive you feel like you could walk into the shop.

    Just search John Allin he should come up.

  34. andy webster permalink
    September 26, 2013

    I was fortunate to work with John on a film called ‘Hopping’ and recall him keeping us amused with tales from his life, long into the night… I have a feeling there may have been some drinking involved! A thoughtful and observant man with an expansive personality…. at true eastender.

  35. Casey Allin permalink
    March 2, 2014

    The Late John Allin is my Grandfather I was born in 1991 6 mouths before he sadly past away
    I have seen a lot of my Grandad’s painting and I am proud to call myself his granddaughter

  36. Catherine Martin permalink
    April 22, 2014

    Lovely pictures and brought back memories of when I was a child. I lived in Flower & Dean Street in the Rothschild Buildings & my Aunts lived across the road in Nathaniel Buildings. I remember playing on the stairs and looking out over the railings. There was a shop called Garfunkel’s in our street and a paper shop not far away.

    My parents were Irish so I suppose you would call us immigrants, I was born in the East End Hospital in 1954 and lived in the buildings until I was about seven. When I got older I used to play downstairs outside the buildings with my dolls pram we were lucky in that we were allowed to do this then.

    A very talented artist who has brought to life the people and places.

    Thank you

  37. john permalink
    May 4, 2014

    hi. i have some allin prints.are they worth a anything

  38. Sharon Allin permalink
    February 7, 2015

    My name is Sharon, and I am the daughter of the late John Allin. I have a number of my father’s limited edition prints for sale (London’s Burning, which is one of his last works) Wentworth Street, & The 100th Birthday Party. Could I also politely remind people that owning an original work does not entitle the owner to either reproduce the work, or sell the right to a third party to reproduce the work, as I have seen a post offering this option. My Mother and I own ALL copyright to my Father’s works, so it cannot be reproduced without our permission. If anyone is interested in doing this, or buying a print, please contact me on 07988066744. Many thanks.

  39. Sharon Allin permalink
    February 7, 2015

    Hi, I also have 5 original works for sale, by my Father, John Allin. If interested, please contact me on 07988066744. Thank you. Sharon.

  40. Paul permalink
    February 27, 2015

    Hi, I have 2 John Allin prints for sale, 1)Anti-facist rally at Gardiners’ Court 1936; signed; 108/250 and 2) a Spitafields scene which is an a/p (Artist proof); signed with 75.
    Any serious offers?

  41. Glenn Hussein permalink
    June 9, 2015

    I knew John Allin as a Child, he his Wife and Daughter lived around the corner from us. The Nan lived up stairs in theGranny Annex. I was friends with his Daughter and my Brother dated his Her for quite a while. John was one of the nicest amiable Blokes you could Meet. I remember He gave my Parents two signed limited edition Prints. I admired his paintings as a Kid and appreciate them even more today.

    I used to go to their house often as Kid and was amazed to see the Celebrities who visited them. He was a very down to Earth Man though.

  42. January 8, 2016

    Hi Gentle Author, Sharon, Casey and Phylis. John was my great pal. I came down from Scotland to the East End where I lived just around the corner from John and his family. John took me under his wing and we spent, many, many, happy hours in the Penshurst Arms. John was the founder member pf the Pils Club. You couldn’t buy a bottle of Pilsner Lager until you joined John’s club. They were in short supply. Both my kids were born at the Mother’s Hospital, Clapton and John helped me to wet (drown) their heads. In 1976, Harold Wilson opened John’s private viewing at Earls Court (pink Gin day) in 1976. I was invited but unfortunately I was always working. John gave me half a folio of his A/P and P/P prints value then, £1200 a full folio of eight was £2,400. John said to remind me of my days in the East End I bought his book Say Goodbye and his Circus book. I am the figure on the roof in his painting of Gardiner’s Corner. John showed me himself in many paintings. I rememer when they all left from the Penshurst to film Hop picking in Kent, a story of John’s childhood and when Pebble Mill came to the Penshurst to film John and George Innes and when the Penshurst Punters went up to Pebble Mill. Again I was always working and couldn’t go. I spent many happy years in Hackney and in particular in the company of John, as mad as a hatter Licensee Dave Gough (Goughie), One Eyed Albert, Winnie, Gladys, Frank, Slippers to name but a few. Now retired back to Scotland with grown up Grandchildren, I look back with great nostalgia to my days in the East End, everyone so friendly, where they had a collection for the birth of my son, John’s wife Phylis and Winnie. They gave us £40. They went even better and gave us £50 for my daughter and brought my wife and daughter home in a Rolls Royce. I have John’s prints hanging in my sitting-rrom and they like John’s short film reminds me of my days in the East End, everything being pulled down and replaced, the Penshurst lying empty and semi derelict. My wife and I still make the pilgrimage back once a year where we still meet some old friends in the Albion in Laurieston Road and where there is a large collection of John’s work hanging on the walls. Oh to be young again and bring back the good old days.

  43. Sam hurley permalink
    May 14, 2016

    I had the pleasure of meeting John as he was a good friend of my dad Denny Wright, he too used to drink in the penshurts arms, I can remember as a child going to his house where all his prints were hanging on the wall. Interested to know if anyone remembers my dad?

  44. Judy permalink
    May 26, 2016

    Is there anywhere that I could buy a copy of any of these pictures?

  45. Casey permalink
    August 4, 2016

    Hi Ian

    Only just seen Your comment as don’t get on here that often do
    You have an email address as mum nan and I would love too talk to you thanks hun

    Casey xx

    @iandevlin

  46. George permalink
    August 15, 2016

    Hi,

    I have a complete set of the Stepney Streets prints, all hand signed and in excellent condition. My email address is curiousfruits@gmail.com.

    Thanks,

    George

  47. Charlie Bridges permalink
    August 17, 2016

    I love his work and am always looking to add to my collection .
    Please email me at charliebridges1952@gmail.com if you have items you are willing to sell me.
    Thank you
    Charlie

  48. March 11, 2017

    Hi Casey. I have just found your post. Hope Mum and Nan are all well. I heard you have moved out of Town and are somewhere on the south coast. The Gentle Author is doing a book on John, it will be a lovely tribute to a great guy. I promised I would look him up when next in London but unfortunately a stroke and a heart attack have curtailed my visits to London. My email address is iandevlin144@gmail.com. Ian

    Sam Hurley/ I see your post re. your father Denny Wright. If he drunk in the Penshurst I knew him. However I cannot put a face to him. Was he one of the Pool Boys? Ian

  49. Laurence Dunn permalink
    August 13, 2017

    Hi Sharon, Casey, my Dad, Walter Dunn, was a friend of John’s. Mum & Dad lived in Sonning Common, near Reading. I remember as a young child John (and Sharon) visiting our house, probably in the late 60′s. My dad died in 2012 aged 93. Mum is in a care home near me in Portsmouth and we were talking about John, hence me finding this site following a google search. Many thanks, Laurence Dunn

  50. susan permalink
    October 11, 2017

    Hi I was wondering if anyone can help, I have a print of London’s Burning. It is a drawing of dock area. One of the building has a moon window at the top. Also there is a sign photo of all the cast that was in he program of the same name. If anyone ca give me any help I would be grateful thank you.

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