Skip to content

James Mackinnon’s Solo Exhibition

October 15, 2017
by the gentle author

Once, artists came to the East End because it was cheap to live here but James Mackinnon is one of those who can longer afford to stay because it is too expensive, and he has moved from Hackney to Hastings.

Ironically, James’ work is so popular that it has taken years for him to have his first solo show because his pictures usually sell before he can collect enough for an exhibition. So I am delighted to announce the opening of James Mackinnon’s show this week at The Millinery Works, N1 3JS, running from Tuesday 17th October until 12th November.

Spitalfields Life readers are invited to private views on Tuesday 17th from 6pm and Sunday 22nd from noon to 5pm. James Mackinnon is featured in EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century, and James and I will be introducing the book and signing copies at 3pm on Sunday 22nd.

Tower at Night, London Fields

The streetscapes of the East End in general and London Fields in particular by James Mackinnon (born 1968) have captivated me for years. The seductive sense of atmosphere and magical sense of possibility in these pictures is matched by the breathtaking accomplishment of their painterly execution.

Remarkably, James is a third generation artist, with his uncle Blake and grandfather Hugh before him – which perhaps accounts for the classical nature of his technique even if his sensibility is undeniably contemporary.

We sat outside Christ Church, Spitalfields, chatting about the enduring allure of the East End for artists, and I was sorry learn that James has been forced to leave due to rising rents.

Like several others I met while researching my book, he is an artist who is genuinely deserving of appreciation by a much wider audience. It is very disappointing that the rewards for such a prodigiously talented painter as James Mackinnon are so little that he can no longer afford to be in the East End, and the East End is lesser for it.

“I grew up in South London in Lee Green and I used to go to the Isle of Dogs through the foot tunnel under the Thames and I was mystified by the area north of the river. Sometimes I would bunk off school with a sketchbook and go wandering there. It seemed a mysterious land, so I thought ‘What’s further up from the Isle of Dogs?’ I was a kid and I had been taken up to the West End, but I had never been to the East End and I sensed there was something extraordinary over that way.

I had always loved drawing and I got a scholarship in art to Dulwich College when I was eleven. The art department was wonderful and I got massive support, so I used be in the art block most of the time.
Later on, having left home and gone through college, there was a big recession and it was tough, all the students were scrabbling around for work, I had an epiphany. I was sat next to the Thames and I realised I just wanted to look at buildings and paint them. Since I was a child, buildings and their atmosphere, the feeling of buildings always had this resonance that I could not put my finger on.

As a kid, I was painting with poster paint and drawing with felt tips, and I was obsessed with the Post Office Tower. There was an art deco Odeon in Deptford that was derelict for years and it was demolished at the end of the eighties, and that had a huge effect on me. I sat in the back of my dad’s car and we drove past on the way up to London, and I would see this building and almost have a heart attack, I had such strong feelings about it. My God this thing is extraordinary, I am in love with it! It was falling to bits, it had pigeons sitting in the roof and it had wonderful art deco streamlining but it had this atmosphere, an elegance and a sadness. Even with the Post Office Tower, I felt it had this presence as though it were a person. That comes to the fore when you paint and you feel the place. You are not just concentrating on the architecture, it’s an emotional thing.

So with painting and drawing skills, I wanted to explore the landscape and often the hinterland. There is something compelling about going to a place you do not really know about – the mysterious world of places. The atmosphere of places is borne out of people and their residue, it’s about people living in a place.

By exploring, I was slowly drawn to where my heart was guiding me. In the early nineties, I moved to the East End because it was affordable and I had always wanted to explore there. And I was there until around 2013. I lived in Hackney and had a great time there, and made some great friends.

I was struggling as an artist, there was a lot of signing on the dole, but it was an act of faith, I knew it was what I had to do. I had always painted buildings.

I lived near London Fields and there is this little terrace of Georgian houses with a railway line and overhead electric wires, and there are some tower blocks in the distance, and you have all this grass. That was at the bottom of my road, it was such an interesting juxtaposition. A lot of East London landscapes have that, you might get a church sitting next to a railway line, next to tower block, next to the canal and a bit of old railing and some graffiti. That funny mixture. So I would just go and paint what I wanted. I painted what I was drawn to. For a long time, I was obsessed with Stratford. No-one had done anything to it at that time and I would go round the back streets and I roamed the hinterlands. I walked through to Plaistow and it is all part of a certain landscape that you find in the East End. To make a picture, you have got to find something that moves you and it can be something at the bottom of your road that resonates for you and makes the right composition for a painting. It’s hard to explain.

I had a go at having a studio but I was always a struggling artist so, when it came to rent day, it got tricky. It’s lovely having a studio but I could not afford it. I tried living in my studio for a bit to save money on the rent but the landlord found out and there was a cat and mouse game.

By the time I left, I think I had found myself. There is something in the painting that says it is me rather than anyone else and that has evolved from having done it for twenty years. I just about managed to survive. I realised I have got the tenacity and self belief. This is what I love. You find your path after a lot of struggle but it only comes by doing it. You realise that a great painting can come from something very ordinary, you can go for a walk and there might be something round the corner that knocks you out. There was a lot of that in the East End and I am still obsessed by it though it is changing hugely. Some of the landscapes have changed and some of the shops have gone. I miss Hackney in many ways but I do not miss struggling and rents going up. The area has changed.

So now I have moved to Hastings. I had a little boy and it became untenable to carry on living in the East End. I had no choice.”

East London Nocturne

Regent’s Canal, Broadway Market

Regent’s Canal, Rosemary Works

Post & Telegraph, Victoria Park

Round Midnight at The Haggerston, Dalston

The Flask, exterior

The Flask, interior

Early Doors, The Shakespeare, Stoke Newington

The Rochester Castle, Stoke Newington

Camden Town Tube

Hampstead Tube

Pickled eggs and onions

Blue Pot with Guinness Bottle

Backstreets, St Leonard’s on Sea

Love Café, St Leonard’s On Sea

Seaside Terrace

Paintings copyright © James Mackinnon

James Mackinnon’s FROM HACKNEY TO HASTINGS is at The Millinery Works, 85/87 Southgate Rd, N1 3JS from 17th October until 12th November

Click here to order a copy of EAST END END VERNACULAR for £25

Learn How To Write Your Own Blog

October 14, 2017
by the gentle author

Join me for a weekend in an eighteenth century weavers’ house in Fournier St and learn how to write your own blog. Learn the secrets of how Spitalfields Life runs, enjoy delicious lunches from Leila’s Cafe and cakes freshly baked to eighteenth century recipes by Townhouse. We always have a lot of fun. Places are available for the weekends of 4th & 5th November and we are also taking bookings for 3rd & 4th February 2018. The course fee of £300 includes lunches, cakes, teas and coffees. Email spitalfieldslife@gmail.com to book your place.

.

Comments by students from courses tutored by The Gentle Author

“I highly recommend this creative, challenging and most inspiring course. The Gentle Author gave me the confidence to find my voice and just go for it!”

“Do join The Gentle Author on this Blogging Course in Spitalfields. It’s as much about learning/ appreciating Storytelling as Blogging. About developing how to write or talk to your readers in your own unique way. It’s also an opportunity to “test” your ideas in an encouraging and inspirational environment. Go and enjoy – I’d happily do it all again!”

“The Gentle Author’s writing course strikes the right balance between addressing the creative act of blogging and the practical tips needed to turn a concept into reality. During the course the participants are encouraged to share and develop their ideas in a safe yet stimulating environment. A great course for those who need that final (gentle) push!”

“I haven’t enjoyed a weekend so much for a long time. The disparate participants with different experiences and aspirations rapidly became a coherent group under The Gentle Author’s direction in a  gorgeous  house in Spitalfields. There was lots of encouragement, constructive criticism, laughter and very good lunches. With not a computer in sight, I found it really enjoyable to draft pieces of written work using pen and paper. Having gone with a very vague idea about what I might do I came away with a clear plan which I think will be achievable and worthwhile.”

“The Gentle Author is a master blogger and, happily for us, prepared to pass on skills. This “How to write a blog” course goes well beyond offering information about how to start blogging – it helps you to see the world in a different light, and inspires you to blog about it.  You won’t find a better way to spend your time or money if you’re considering starting a blog.”

“I gladly traveled from the States to Spitalfields for the How to Write a Blog Course. The unique setting and quality of the Gentle Author’s own writing persuaded me and I was not disappointed. The weekend provided ample inspiration, like-minded fellowship, and practical steps to immediately launch a blog that one could be proud of. I’m so thankful to have attended.”

“I took part in The Gentle Author’s blogging course for a variety of reasons: I’ve followed Spitalfields Life for a long time now, and find it one of the most engaging blogs that I know; I also wanted to develop my own personal blog in a way that people will actually read, and that genuinely represents my own voice. The course was wonderful. Challenging, certainly, but I came away with new confidence that I can write in an engaging way, and to a self-imposed schedule. The setting in Fournier St was both lovely and sympathetic to the purpose of the course. A further unexpected pleasure was the variety of other bloggers who attended: each one had a very personal take on where they wanted their blogs to go, and brought with them an amazing range and depth of personal experience. “

“I found this bloggers course was a true revelation as it helped me find my own voice and gave me the courage to express my thoughts without restriction. As a result I launched my professional blog and improved my photography blog. I would highly recommend it.”

“An excellent and enjoyable weekend: informative, encouraging and challenging. The Gentle Author was generous throughout in sharing knowledge, ideas and experience and sensitively ensured we each felt equipped to start out.  Thanks again for the weekend. I keep quoting you to myself.”

“My immediate impression was that I wasn’t going to feel intimidated – always a good sign on these occasions. The Gentle Author worked hard to help us to find our true voice, and the contributions from other students were useful too. Importantly, it didn’t feel like a ‘workshop’ and I left looking forward to writing my blog.”

“The Spitafields writing course was a wonderful experience all round. A truly creative teacher as informed and interesting as the blogs would suggest. An added bonus was the eclectic mix of eager students from all walks of life willing to share their passion and life stories. Bloomin’ marvellous grub too boot.”

“An entertaining and creative approach that reduces fears and expands thought”

“The weekend I spent taking your course in Spitalfields was a springboard one for me. I had identified writing a blog as something I could probably do – but actually doing it was something different!  Your teaching methods were fascinating, and I learnt a lot about myself as well as gaining  very constructive advice on how to write a blog.  I lucked into a group of extremely interesting people in our workshop, and to be cocooned in the beautiful old Spitalfields house for a whole weekend, and plied with delicious food at lunchtime made for a weekend as enjoyable as it was satisfying.  Your course made the difference between thinking about writing a blog, and actually writing it.”

“After blogging for three years, I attended The Gentle Author’s Blogging Course. What changed was my focus on specific topics, more pictures, more frequency, more fun. In the summer I wrote more than forty blogs, almost daily from my Tuscan villa on village life and I had brilliant feedback from my readers. And it was a fantastic weekend with a bunch of great people and yummy food.”

“An inspirational weekend, digging deep with lots of laughter and emotion, alongside practical insights and learning from across the group – and of course overall a delightfully gentle weekend.”

“The course was great fun and very informative, digging into the nuts and bolts of writing a blog.   There was an encouraging and nurturing atmosphere that made me think that I too could learn to write a blog that people might want to read.  - There’s a blurb, but of course what I really want to say is that my blog changed my life, without sounding like an idiot.   The people that I met in the course were all interesting people, including yourself.   So thanks for everything.”

“This is a very person-centred course.  By the end of the weekend, everyone had developed their own ideas through a mix of exercises, conversation and one-to-one feedback. The beautiful Hugenot house and high-calibre food contributed to what was an inspiring and memorable weekend.”

“It was very intimate writing course that was based on the skills of writing. The Gentle Author was a superb teacher.”

“It was a surprising course that challenged and provoked the group in a beautiful supportive intimate way and I am so thankful for coming on it.”

“I did not enrol on the course because I had a blog in mind, but because I had bought TGA’s book, “Spitalfields Life”, very much admired the writing style and wanted to find out more and improve my own writing style. By the end of the course, I had a blog in mind, which was an unexpected bonus.”

“This course was what inspired me to dare to blog. Two years on, and blogging has changed the way I look at London.”

.

HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ  - 4th & 5th NOVEMBER 2017 and 3rd & 4th FEBRUARY 2018

.

Spend a weekend in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Spitalfields and learn how to write a blog with The Gentle Author.

This course will examine the essential questions which need to be addressed if you wish to write a blog that people will want to read.

“Like those writers in fourteenth century Florence who discovered the sonnet but did not quite know what to do with it, we are presented with the new literary medium of the blog – which has quickly become omnipresent, with many millions writing online. For my own part, I respect this nascent literary form by seeking to explore its own unique qualities and potential.” - The Gentle Author

COURSE STRUCTURE

1. How to find a voice – When you write, who are you writing to and what is your relationship with the reader?
2. How to find a subject – Why is it necessary to write and what do you have to tell?
3. How to find the form – What is the ideal manifestation of your material and how can a good structure give you momentum?
4. The relationship of pictures and words – Which comes first, the pictures or the words? Creating a dynamic relationship between your text and images.
5. How to write a pen portrait – Drawing on The Gentle Author’s experience, different strategies in transforming a conversation into an effective written evocation of a personality.
6. What a blog can do – A consideration of how telling stories on the internet can affect the temporal world.

SALIENT DETAILS

The next courses will be held at 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields on 4th & 5th November and on 3rd & 4th February.

The Course runs from 10am -5pm on Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sunday.

Accomodation at 5 Fournier St is available upon enquiry to Fiona Atkins fiona@townhousewindow.com

Email spitalfieldslife@gmail.com to book a place on the course.

Staffordshire Dogs by Rob Ryan

The Bloody Romance Of The Tower

October 13, 2017
by the gentle author

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey at Tower Green

“It has been for years, the cherished wish of the writer of these pages to make the Tower of London the groundwork of a Romance,” wrote William Harrison Ainsworth in 1840, introducing his novel, “The Tower of London” – and it is an impulse that I recognise, because I know of no other place in London where the lingering sense of myth and the echoing drama of the past is more tangible that at the Tower.

Each time I enter those ancient walls, am struck anew by the mystery of the place. I have to stop and reconcile my knowledge of history with the location where it happened, and each time I become more spellbound by the actuality of the place, which in spite of Victorian rebuilding still retains its integrity as an ancient fortress. I make a point to pause and read the age-old graffiti, to stop in each doorway and take in the prospect at this most dramatic of monuments.

When I discovered “The Tower of London” by William Harrison Ainsworth in the Bishopsgate Institute I was captivated by George Cruikshank’s illustrations, realising that not only had this favourite of mine amongst nineteenth century illustrators once stood in exactly the same places I had stood, but he had the genius to draw the images inspired by these charged locations.

“Desirous of exhibiting the Tower in its triple light of a palace, a prison and a fortress, the author has shaped his story with reference to that end, and he has also endeavoured to combine such  a series of incidents as should naturally introduce every relic of the old pile, its towers, halls, chambers, gateways and drawbridges – so that no part of it should remain uninvolved.” explained Ainsworth in his introduction to his sensationalist fictionalised account of the violent end of the short reign of Lady Jane Grey. Yet it is George Cruikshank’s engravings which bring the work alive, providing not just a tour of the architectural environment but also of the dramatic imaginative world that it contains – and done so vividly that I know already that when I return I shall be looking out for his characters in my mind’s eye while I am there.

There is a grim humour and surreal poetry in pictures which, to my eyes, presage the work of Edward Gorey, who like George Cruikshank also created a sinister diaphanous world out of dense hatching. Maurice Sendak is another master of the mystery that can be evoked by intricate webs of woven lines in which – as in these Tower of London engravings – three dimensional space dissolves into magical possibility. But to me the prime achievement of these pictures is that George Cruikshank has given concrete life to the Tower’s past, creating figures that convincingly take command of the stage offered by its charged spaces and, like the acting of Henry Irving, appear as if momentarily illuminated by flashes of lightning. Cruikshank’s pictures are like glimpses of a strange dream, drawing the viewer into a compelling emotional universe with its own logic, peopled by its own inhabitants and where it is too readily apparent what is going on.

The popularity of William Harrison Ainsworth’s novel was responsible for creating the bloodthirsty reputation of the Tower of London which still endures today – even though for centuries the Tower was used as a domestic royal residence and administrative centre, headquarters of the royal ordinances, records office, mint, observatory, and a menagerie amongst other diverse functions throughout its thousand year history. Yet although it may be just one of the infinite range of tales to be told about the Tower of London, William Harrison Ainsworth’s Romance does witness historical truth. There is a neglected plaque in the corner of Trinity Green, just outside Tower Hill station, which is a memorial to those executed there through the centuries – as testament to the reality of the violence enacted upon those with the misfortune to find themselves on the wrong side of authority in past days.

Jane Grey’s first night in the Tower - “Prompted by an undefinable feeling of curiosity, she hastened towards it and, holding forward the light, a shudder went through her frame, as she perceived at her feet – an axe!”

Cuthbert Cholmondeley surprised by a mysterious figure in the dungeon adjoining the Devilin Tower.

Jane Grey interposing between the Duke of Northumberland and Simon Renard.

Jane Grey and Lord Gilbert Dudley brought back to the Tower through Traitors’ Gate - “Never had Jane experienced such a feeling of horror as now assailed her – and if she had crossed the fabled Styx, she could not have greater dread. Her blood seemed congealed within her veins as she gazed around. The light of the torches fell upon the black arches – upon the slimy walls and upon the yet blacker tide.”

Jane imprisoned in the Brick Tower - “Alone! The thought struck her to the heart. She was now captured. She heard the doors of the prison bolted – she examined its stone walls, partly concealed by tapestry – she glance at its barred windows, and she gave up hope.”

Simon Renard and Winwinkle, the warder, on the roof of the White Tower - “There you behold the Tower of London,” said Winwinkle, pointing downwards. “And there I read the history of England,” replied Renard. “If it is written in these towers, it is a dark and bloody history, ” replied the warder.

Mauger sharpening his axe - ” A savage-looking individual seated on a bench at a grinding stone, he had an axe blade which he had just been sharpening, and he was trying its edge with his thumb. His fierce blood-shot eyes, recessed far beneath his bent and bushy brows were fixed upon the weapon.”

Execution of the Duke of Northumberland upon Tower Hill - “As soon as the Duke had disposed himself upon the block, the axe flashed like a gleam of lightning in the sunshine – descended – and the head was severed from the trunk. Mauger held it aloft, almost before the eyes were closed, crying out to the the assemblage in a loud voice, “Behold the head of a traitor!”

Cuthbert Cholmondeley discovering the body of Alexia in the Devilin Tower - “Pushing aside the door with his blade, he beheld a spectacle that filled him with horror. At one side of the cell upon a stone seat, rested the dead body of a woman, reduced almost to a skeleton. On the wall, close to where she lay, and evidently carved by her own hand, the name ALEXIA.”

Queen Mary surprises Courtenay and Princess Elizabeth

Lawrence Nightgall dragging Cicely down the secret stairs in the Salt Tower

Courtenay’s escape from the Tower

The burning of Edward Underhill at Tower Green – “As the flames rose, the sharpness of the torment overcame him. He lost control of himself, and his eyes started from their sockets – his contorted features and his writhing frame proclaimed the extremity of his agony. It was a horrible sight, and a shudder burst forth from the assemblage.”

The Death Warrant - “Mary tried to ascertain the cause of the animal’s disquietude as its barking changed to a dismal howl. Not without misgiving, she glanced towards the window and there between the bars she beheld a hideous black mask, through the holes of which glared a pair of flashing eyes.”

Elizabeth confronts Sir Thomas Wyatt in the torture chamber - “‘Sir Thomas Wyatt,’ Elizabeth declared in a loud and authoritative tone, and stepping towards him, ‘If you would not render your name forever infamous, you must declare my innocence!’”

The Fall of Nightgall - “Nightgall struggled desperately against the horrible fate that waited him, clutching convulsively against the wall. But it was unavailing. He uttered a fearful cry, and tried to grab at the roughened surface. From a height of nearly ninety feet, he fell with a terrific smash upon the pavement of the court below.”

The Night before the Execution - “In spite of himself, the executioner could not repress a feeling of dread and the contrary urge, which represented his curiousity. He pointed towards the church porch, from which a figure, robed in white, but insubstantial as the mist, suddenly appeared. It glided noiselessly along and without turning its face to the beholders.”

Jane Grey meeting the body of her husband at the scaffold - “She knew it was the body of her husband, and unprepared for so terrible an encounter, uttered a cry of horror.”

Plaque at Trinity Green on Tower Hill

You may also like to read

John Keohane, Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

Constables Dues at the Tower of London

The Oldest Ceremony in the World.

A Conversation With Doreen Fletcher

October 12, 2017
by the gentle author

On the eve of Doreen Fletcher’s second exhibition IN BETWEEN, ALMOST GONE which opens this Friday 13th October at Townhouse, Spitalfields, I visited Doreen in her studio to learn the story behind her remarkable urban landscape paintings of the East End

Turner’s Rd, 1998

Doreen Fletcher - Looking back, I suppose I was very spoiled. From a young age I liked painting and my dad used to take me to the toy shop and we had to buy the best, most expensive paints. I was an only child, born into a working class family, and my parents, Colin & Alice, were semi-literate, I guess you would say.

I was a bit of a loner, I liked going for long walks. I passed the eleven-plus but I had a very difficult time at Grammar School because, although I was clever, I came from the wrong side of the tracks. I used to have to wear this hat and every morning, as I was walking to school, the Secondary Modern kids would come and knock it off my head. When I got to school, I had to pretend I was from somewhere else, because all the other kids they came from families who were doctors, solicitors, and so I felt, you know… odd.

The Gentle Author - What was the first landscape that you knew?

Doreen Fletcher - It was grey. Grey, brown streets with sparrows, lots of sparrows and pigeons. I used to long for colour. I grew up in a two-up, two-down terrace in Stoke-on-Trent, but every Sunday my parents used to take me on a bus into the country and I just loved colour.

I remember, when I was five, I was bought a set of encyclopaedias from the guy who came round knocking on street doors and it had colour pictures in it – paintings – and I thought they were wonderful. And I suppose that was when I started to be interested in visual things – plus at Grammar School, when we were doing Art, I did not have to talk and my accent in those days was quite broad. All the other girls spoke with posh accents, so I would paint in silence and it was something I was good at, so I got praise for that.

The Gentle Author - What work did your parents do?

Doreen Fletcher - Oh Alice, my mother, she was a servant. She worked in a munitions factory during the war and then she became a servant afterwards. It gave her ideas about not having the newspaper on the table and no tomato ketchup, and healthy eating. So in her case, there was a slight social mobility. She was very very fussy about the front step being clean. Colin, my dad, started off as a farm worker, he had wanted to be a vet but the fact that he did not like school – could hardly read or write – stood in the way.

After I was born, they moved to the town because he could earn more money and, in the late fifties, when they started putting up pylons he worked on that, and then later he worked putting in pipes for North Sea Gas too. When he was fifty-seven, he had a brain haemorrhage when he was working, probably because of the pneumatic drills, and he did not work again after that.

The Gentle Author - So what took you away from the Potteries?

Doreen Fletcher – I did not like living in a small town. I hated the constrictions and the pettiness. I wanted to go to Art School in London, and I met a boy who got a place in one and I moved with him to London.

The Gentle Author- But did you apply to Art School yourself?

Doreen Fletcher – Yes, I did a Foundation Course in Newcastle but after that I became a model. I did that for a long time.

The Gentle Author - Where did you live when you came to London?

Doreen Fletcher –  I moved to Colliers Wood in South West London and I got a job at an Art School as a model. Gradually, I started taking photographs and doing drawings but – at that point –  I did not really know what I wanted to paint, except that it was almost a compulsive activity.

I did quite a lot of self portraits and still lives. It was only when I moved to Bayswater in 1976 that I developed a strong interest in urban landscape. For me, it was a very exciting place to be – having come from this small town – and it was close to the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, Notting Hill Gate and Portobello Rd. I started painting the local streets – the Electric Cinema, the Serpentine Boathouse – and then I became interested in Underground stations at night – Bayswater, Paddington – and this continued when I moved to the East End.

The Gentle Author - What brought you to the East End?

Doreen Fletcher - Simply that the relationship I was in broke up and I met someone new and the housing was cheap in the East End. It was relatively cheap to rent at that time because lots of people were moving away, so artists were still moving in to places like Bow and Mile End.

The Gentle Author – How do you remember the East End as it was then?

Doreen Fletcher – There was corrugated iron everywhere! I loved it here because I had had enough of the sophistication of the West End. It seemed to me like coming back home here – lots of corner shops and tiny pubs. There was a community but, after a couple of years, I realised that they were not staying, and the corner shops and pubs were closing.

Bus Stop, Mile End, 1983

The Gentle Author - Why did you start painting the East End?

Doreen Fletcher – I was visually excited by being somewhere new. The first painting I did in the East End was the bus stop in Mile End in 1983, and then I think I did Renee’s Café next. Once I realised they were going, it triggered this idea of painting the pubs and the shops.

The Gentle Author – Was this your full time occupation?

Doreen Fletcher – No, I was working as a model. It was the most boring job you could imagine but I just stuck at it during term time, so I would have periods of full-time painting and I could keep myself by working three days a week as model.

The Gentle Author - How central to your life were your paintings at that time?

Doreen Fletcher – Very. That was my focal point. My studio was a small room at the top of a run-down three-storey house in Clements St. It faced north so the lighting was good in the day time.

I spent a lot of time just walking around at all times of day and in different weather conditions. Eventually a specific scene imprinted itself on my mind which I felt could have potential as a painting. I would make thumbnail sketches sketches on the spot and take a picture with my camera.

Once I had gathered as much information as I could, I would make a highly detailed drawing which acted as a basis for the painting. This might evolve gradually over a period of months or even years, as a tension built up between my need to represent reality and the demands made by the painting itself. I always struggled to resolve it in an abstract and objective way as well as recording a recognisable subject.

I used to try and work twenty-eight hours a week, I never wanted to become a Sunday painter.

The Gentle Author - Did you have ambition for this work?

Doreen Fletcher – Yes and I did have some limited success in the eighties. I had a show at Spitalfields Health Centre on Brick Lane and then at Tower Hamlets Library in Bancroft Rd. Local people loved my paintings but there was limited interest from any critics.

The Gentle Author - Did you pursue other avenues to get recognition for your work?

Doreen Fletcher - Once a month, I used to send off for lots of slides in response to competitions and requests for submissions in Artists’ Newsletter but it never seemed to go anywhere.

The Gentle Author - How did you maintain morale through that twenty year period?

Doreen Fletcher – I have an optimistic nature and I remained optimistic up until the late nineties when my interest in the genre waned and I think it affected the quality of what I was doing.  I realised I was coming to the end of the series I was doing of the East End.

The Gentle Author - What told you that you were coming to the end?

Doreen Fletcher - The East End was changing and I was not really interested any more. The new build made it very dense, taking away the individuality and the sense of community. At first, I was interested while it was being built – on the Isle of Dogs, for instance – but once it became functional there were just too many people.

The Gentle Author - At the time you concluded the series, were there changes in your life?

Doreen Fletcher – I became more involved in teaching Art to kids with special needs. I grew more interested too, because I appeared to be good at it and my work was successful. Gradually, I became involved in the tutorial side of it as well and supporting other lecturers.

The Gentle Author - Did you find that rewarding?

Doreen Fletcher – Yes, I was earning money from it and it was rewarding working with other people, so I became more and more involved in that.

The Gentle Author - Once you had completed nearly twenty years of painting the East End, what were your feelings about that series of work?

Doreen Fletcher – I felt that I had tried very hard to be successful, to get my work out there and get it seen. I had hoped for some kind of recognition. I was never ambitious in terms of international recognition or anything like that, but I did feel that the work was good enough to be recognised more than it was

The Gentle Author - Were you disappointed?

Doreen Fletcher – Yes. I remember the day I made a conscious decision to pack away my paints. It was November 16th 2004. I said, ‘That’s it!’ I am not going to paint again.

The Gentle Author - Do you think your project reached its culmination?

Doreen Fletcher – At the time I thought not, but looking at the work again, I am very very glad I did it now – what I think was important was that I recorded something which has gone.

The Gentle Author - Do you think that you evolved as a painter by doing this work?

Doreen Fletcher – I think, if I had I been taken on by a gallery, I would have developed more as a painter. Instead, I think I found a method of working that suited what I was doing and I stayed with it. Maybe with a bit more encouragement I would have done what I am doing now – since I have come back to painting – which is pushing the boundaries?

The Gentle Author - Do you have a criterion for judging if one of your paintings is successful?

Doreen Fletcher – Yes, a painting is successful for me when I believe I have captured a moment.

Transcript by Louisa Carpenter

Portrait of Doreen Fletcher by Lucinda Douglas Menzies

Doreen Fletcher’s exhibition IN BETWEEN, ALMOST GONE opens on Friday 13th October at Townhouse, 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields and runs daily until 27th October. Catalogues are available for £5.

You may also like to take a look at

Doreen Fletcher’s Paintings

Doreen Fletcher’s East End, Then & Now

Doreen Fletcher’s New Exhibition

October 11, 2017
by the gentle author

Readers will be familiar with the work of Doreen Fletcher whom I met in 2015, when she had hidden twenty years worth of paintings away in an attic, after giving up her work as an artist ten years earlier due to the lack of any interest in her pictures.

Subsequently, Doreen and her paintings have become acclaimed and this Friday 13th October, following the success of her debut show in 2016, she opens her second exhibition at Townhouse, 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields, which runs until 29th October.

Most excitingly, inspired by the immense positive response to her work, Doreen has started painting again and her exhibition, entitled IN BETWEEN, ALMOST GONE, is a mixture of old and new pictures.

Postbox in Tooley St, 1997

Popcorn Stand at the Wakes, 1994

The Ragged School Museum, Copperfield Rd 2017

Thames Pier, Isle of Dogs, Boxing Day 1988

Metalworks, Chasely St, 2017

East End Dentist, 2017

Foot Tunnel, Silvertown, 2017

Train Over Canal, 1993

The Queen’s Head, York Sq, 2017

Bow Police Station, 2017

Road To Nowhere, 2013

Summer in Limehouse, 1997

Massala Cafe, E14, 2017

Carwash, Salmon Lane, 2017

Browns, We Have Moved, 2017

Emporium, Commercial Rd, 2017

Pharmacy, Commercial Rd, 2017

Fried Chicken Shop, 2017

Lino Shop, 2017

Tyre Shop, Salmon Lane, 2017

Dr Barnardo’s, Copperfield Rd 2017

‘Your no Bansky!’ Docklands Tyres & Exhausts, Commercial Rd, 2017

The Little Cottage, Silvertown, 2017

Twilight, St Anne’s Churchyard, 1998

Paintings copyright © Doreen Fletcher

Doreen Fletcher’s work is featured in EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century

You may also like to read about

Doreen Fletcher’s East End