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Doreen Fletcher’s First East End Paintings

October 23, 2018
by the gentle author

Over coming months, leading up to the opening of Doreen Fletcher’s retrospective at the Nunnery Gallery, Bow Arts, on 25th January 2019, we shall be featuring her paintings accompanied by the stories that lie behind them. Today we begin with Doreen’s account of her first visit to the East End in 1983 and the three pictures that this encounter inspired within the first minute.

I shall be giving an illustrated lecture about Artists Who Painted the East End Streets in the 20th Century – including Doreen Fletcher – this Friday 26th October at 4:15pm as part of the East London History Festival at the Whitechapel Idea Store. Click here for tickets

Bus Stop, Mile End

“My first visit to Mile End was for a date in May 1983. Opposite the station, a grandiose thirties building stood in sorrow but a couple of square buildings next to it looked more cheerful in the fading sunlight. They housed Conlon’s Men’s Clothing Shop and Terminus Restaurant, both of which had seen better days. My spirits lifted when I turned the corner into the Burdett Road and a nightclub called Benjy’s caught my attention. Glancing back, I noticed a bus stop next to another squat edifice. Although I did not realise it at the time, I had found subjects for three paintings in the space of a minute.

I was intrigued by the building behind the bus stop which appeared doomed and I wanted to capture it before the bulldozers arrived. In fact, the edifice was flattened barely a year later. I was also intrigued by the two women waiting for a bus and wondered whether they knew each other.

I loved it in the East End because it felt to me as if I were returning home. Like Stoke where I came from, it was predominantly working class and also had once been an important centre for industry. Corner shops and tiny pubs proliferated among street markets.

I noticed the skies first, open and dramatic as they advanced into Essex. There were corrugated fences everywhere, still bombsites where buddleia proliferated and a few prefabs inhabited by artists.

I was excited visually by being somewhere new to me yet that also reminded me of where I grew up. In the Potteries, the town planners’ ethos was ‘If it’s old, let’s sweep it away’ – regardless of its cultural and historical significance. I saw the same fate awaiting the East End.”

Benjy’s, Mile End

“I used to pass Benjy’s each evening on my way home from modelling sessions and I was attracted by the neon which lit up the facade, casting an exotic atmosphere. It glowed in the ethereal twilight and the betting shop next door offered a graphic contrast.”

Terminus Restaurant, Mile End

“I was fascinated by the pale tones of the peeling facade of the Terminus Restaurant. Happily this building remains, although the restaurant is long gone and replaced by an estate agents.”

Location of ‘Bus Stop, Mile End’ today (photographed by Alex Pink)

Location of ‘Benjy’s Nightclub’ today (photographed by Alex Pink)

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Readers will be aware of the magnificent paintings of Doreen Fletcher which were first shown in these pages in 2015. Doreen painted the East End from 1983 until 2004, when she gave up in discouragement due to lack of interest in her work. Since 2015 Doreen has begun painting again, had two shows at Townhouse Spitalfields, and one of her paintings was shown at the National Gallery last year when she was shortlisted for the first Evening Standard Contemporary Art Award.

In 2019, there will be a major retrospective of Doreen Fletcher’s paintings at the Nunnery Gallery, Bow Arts opening 25th January and running until 17th March.

Complementing the exhibition, Spitalfields Life Books are publishing a handsome hardback book of Doreen Fletcher’s paintings on November 15th, collecting more of her pictures than have ever been seen together before and revealing the full breadth of her achievement as a painter for the very first time.

Since we announced Doreen’s book last week, we have already raised most of the funding and now we just need a few more supporters. There are two ways you can help.

1. We are seeking readers who are willing to invest £1000 to make Doreen Fletcher’s book happen. If you can help, please drop me a line at spitalfieldslife@gmail.com

2. Preorder copies for yourself and your friends using the link below and we will send them to you signed by Doreen Fletcher on publication in November.

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Click here to order a signed copy of DOREEN FLETCHER, PAINTINGS

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Portrait of Doreen Fletcher in her studio by Stuart Freedman

You may also like to read about

The Triumph Of Doreen Fletcher

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Helen Breen permalink
    October 23, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, I have really enjoyed looking at Doreen Fletcher paintings on your blog and noticed that you have recently used one of her streetscapes in your masthead – very effective.

    Best of luck to Doreen and all of the other East End artists whose work you have supported…

  2. October 23, 2018

    It’s fascinating to gain insights to the mysterious creative process of a great artist: extraordinary that ‘Benjy’s’, one of these three scenes glimpsed by Doreen within a single minute, would lodge in her subconscious and gestate over nine years before a painting was produced.

    Although they never feature prominently, human figures imbue her paintings with a potent psychological tension. No other artist would position the two women trapped, caged, between bus stop and shelter in an otherwise open and expansive scene. Another curiosity: is that a figure in the window of Benjy’s Club, in striped shirt and jacket buttoned once? A cut-out, perhaps, or a mannequin – or merely a game of chance reflections.

    Doreen likes to pay homage to her mentors. Two figures sitting side-by-side in the cocoon of the Terminus Restaurant accentuate the solitude of the young woman exposed in the window. Her cloche hat is a nod towards Edward Hopper and his ‘Automat’ of 1927. Like Hopper, Doreen is alert to flashes of revelatory brilliance in an ungodly city.

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