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Giorgione In Clapton

January 27, 2014
by the gentle author

You enter a disused tramshed in Clapton, climb a ramshackle staircase and discover yourself in the studio of Giorgione, one of the greatest Venetian artists of the High Renaissance, who died in 1510. How can this be? Here in a room of comparable size to one of the smaller chambers at the National Gallery you are confronted with an array of masterpieces – familiar works, like Giorgione’s most famous painting The Tempest, surrounded by others that were thought to be lost, known only by engravings. Potentially the lair of an art thief or a master forger, it is some kind of miracle you have stumbled upon.

Neither thief nor forger, the magus responsible for working this magic is Danny Easterbrook who has devoted the last sixteen years to repainting the canon of works of Giorgione at the rate of three a year, using all the correct pigments and practices of Giorgione’s time. It is an extraordinary project rendered all the more astonishing by its location in this deserted tramshed and thus it is no surprise to discover that Danny is almost as passionate about the building as he is about Giorgione.

“The Tudor palace of Brooke House, dating from 1470, stood across the road from here until it was demolished in 1955,” Danny explained, widening his eyes in wonder, “The stables and coach yard for Brooke House were on this side of the road, becoming the Clapton Coachworks and, in 1873, The Lea Bridge Tramway Depot.”

The tramshed was shut more than a century ago, when the system switched from horsepower to electricity in 1907, and since then the buildings have served as a warehouse for Jack Cohen, the founder of Tesco, and as the home to the Odessa recording studios, employed by Iron Maiden, Dire Straits, The Police and Pete Doherty among others. Until recently, the entire complex was in use as artists’ studios and crafts workshops, but they have all gone now, except Danny and a small company selling foam rubber.

The imminent demolition of the building underscores the melancholy of Giorgione’s dreamlike paintings, that emphasise the transient, ephemeral nature of the world, and colours Danny’s quest to recover something lost centuries ago. Vasari believed Giorgione to be the peer of Leonardo and Michelangelo, yet today only a handful of paintings are ascribed to him and his reputation has faded to an enigma that matches the mysterious nature of his subjects. “We don’t know much about Giorgione, he died young and he’s been obscured by Titian, who was his pupil,” admitted Danny with a frown, “Many of his paintings have been taken away from him and given to Titian.”

“When I came to London from New Zealand in the seventies, I was a bass player,” Danny revealed, speaking of his own past,“but a painter lived across the road and it sparked my interest. Since the late eighties, I’ve been painting and making lutes.” Then he took one from a whole line of different lutes he had made, hanging upon the wall, and began to improvise upon it with the ease of a virtuoso, and I realised I was in the company of a genuine Renaissance man.

A talented individual with a fierce scholarly intelligence, Danny has immersed himself in Venetian culture of Giorgione’s time, exploring the provenance of disputed works, and - in his versions - removing overpainting and images that have been added, in order to get closer to Giorgione. Through his intimate understanding of Giorgione, Danny seeks to restore the reputation of his beloved master by demonstrating the true range of his achievements in painting.

It is an endeavour that sits somewhere in between art history and conceptual art, and Danny’s accomplishment is breathtaking – even manufacturing elaborate gilt frames for each of the paintings in the authentic method. You look around the room and you realise you are seeing something impossible, something even Giorgione never saw – all his works in one room. Through comparison, Danny is beginning to construct a tentative sequence of Giorgione’s paintings and also, through comparison, to establish that paintings misattributed to others are in fact the work of Giorgione.

Ten years ago, Danny spent a year putting a new roof on his studio which is also his home, high up in the former stables of the former tramshed. He has been a good custodian of a dignified old building but now he is forced to leave, he can find nowhere else in Hackney to continue his project and is looking at moving to Wales or the West Country. “When I came here it was cheap and you didn’t have to work a sixty hour week just to pay the rent, it was a perfect space for what I wanted,” he confessed to me regretfully.

Yet it is apparent that Danny’s visionary project will carry him forward wherever he goes. “I believe Giorgione painted sixty or so paintings,” he admitted to me, “and if I live long enough I’ll run out of paintings to paint.”

Danny Easterbrook

Danny Easterbrook’s studio

A corner of the studio

The old stableyard

A blacksmith operated from here until recently

A ring to tether a horse

This foam rubber company is the last business still operating in the tramshed

A hidden passage at the tramshed

A secret yard at the tramshed

The North Metropolitan Tramways Company Depot was opened in 1873

Rails where the trams once ran

Brooke House in the twenties

Brooke House in the eighteen-eighties, drawn in the style of Wenceslas Hollar

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Molasses permalink
    January 27, 2014

    Amazing!

  2. jeannette permalink
    January 27, 2014

    a beautiful artist’s space filled with beautiful work and a good life.
    with artists priced out of manhattan, many are travelling to Philadelphia, new Orleans and Detroit, which is now almost feral.
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/drewphilp/why-i-bought-a-house-in-detroit-for-500

    I hope you will do a followup on where some of the east end’s displaced artists and artisans are re-establishing themselves.

  3. January 27, 2014

    Wow, what a wonderful project. How beautiful. What a nice thing to do with your life!

  4. January 27, 2014

    Thanks for the interesting report of this architectual spot in London. — It is a sad fact: All good things must come to an end. What can one do??

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  5. Linda permalink
    January 27, 2014

    It is tragic that these buildings are being demolished. Surely they are ideal as artists studios/workshops, for small businesses and creative people?

    Danny Easterbrook’s paintings look magnificent. Thank you for another brilliant blog post

  6. Albert Premier permalink
    January 27, 2014

    “Progress” & “development” seem to be synonyms for destruction of old buildings as far as governments are concerned these days.
    Why can’t they leave this guy and his building alone? Probably to be replaced by some inhumane & ugly “development” whose main purpose seems to be to satisfy the ego of some city planner & his cronies in the government. City planners? City rapists I often call them. We have had plenty of those where I live (Amsterdam, Netherlands) before the municipality came to its senses; to late. Much urban beauty & liveability has been lost forever. Unfortunately the same seems to be true for the rest of the world, including the East End of London.

  7. Melvyn Brooks permalink
    January 27, 2014

    I have enjoyed reading the essay “Giorgine in Clapton”. The former Tram Depot seems to have so much potential. It is a shame that this too might soon be flattened!! The last but one illustration shows Brooke House when it was in use as privated lunatic asylum in the early 20th century. However the last print is one of the well known forgeries by Peter Thompson. There is hardly any likeness between this print and and the real Brooke House. Thompson produced another Hackney print of Barbers Barn in Mare Street, again a complete figment of his imagination

    Melvyn Brooks Karkur, Israel

  8. January 27, 2014

    Developers in search of a quick buck are driving out skilled and creative people and destroying the heritage of East London. Is this to be the legacy of the Olympics?

  9. January 27, 2014

    Is it possible for Danny to exhibit in the National Gallery or perhaps The Tate Gallery or even The British Museum showing his works as an appreciation to Giorgione? There are tribute bands playing famous artistes, surely Danny should get a recognition for his superb works. He is far far better than Tracey Emin who does not compare with his works. (Sorry Tracey!) I am very sad to hear of the greedy developers who want to destroy good old London. Who wants to live in uncharacterful new buildings? I don’t! Why don’t we protest?

  10. Jake permalink
    January 27, 2014

    Interesting piece,I lived round the corner for 70 years and have seen many different tenants of the sheds.Two colourful characters there for a number of years, selling furniture,were Archie Shine and his wife Minnie they cruised around the area in an old Rolls Royce.One factual error,Brooke House was demolished 1954/55 me and my mate had great adventures of discovery in the old building when we were kids,we found what we thought was a Priest hole.

  11. January 27, 2014

    The Tramshed’s got years of useful and interesting life yet surely. Is it really to join the list of destroyed buildings?

    And thanks for introducing us to the extraordinary achievement of Danny Easterbrook. Long may he remain at the Tramshed.

  12. ouija permalink
    January 27, 2014

    What a fantastic find, and what a great project. I really hope some angel sees this article and offers him alternative studio space. I also hope the tramsheds will be replaced with something sensible, like a job-providing factory or houses for locals, but more stupid flats for rich foreign investors seems a lot more likely. Does anyone know what’s planned for the site?

  13. Gaye Black permalink
    January 30, 2014

    Brilliant! He should be given a space nearby where he could open it to the public

  14. isa permalink
    February 6, 2014

    Danny is a genius I hope he finds a good place to go I totally am in awe of this painter please help him some one who has vision can save his work.

  15. Mandy permalink
    June 23, 2014

    What passion and trueness. I’ve no doubt that your unique, soulful existence will continue to touch and be celebrated in Clapton and beyond!! Thank you for your gift.

  16. anthony short permalink
    September 3, 2014

    Danny has portrayed an exquisite display of real ability and vision, great that someone has the courage to take on these master works.

  17. February 10, 2016

    Stunning – and tragic that DE is being/has been obliged to leave. What an achievement and what an astonishing space still to survive in London, which greed and the developers are busy ripping the heart from. I wish I had talked to my friend Bob Cunning in greater depth about all this years ago.

  18. March 3, 2016

    Dear Danny Easterbrook
    I just heard about you last night and was sent a link.
    I would be extremely keen to come and see your paintings if at all possible.
    If you look at my website /about paul holberton it will tell you something about my scholarship on Giorgione, and I shall be giving a paper at the RA/Courtauld conference in May responding to the Age of Giorgione show at the RA.
    We might have things to discuss!
    With best regards, I look forward to hearing from you

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