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So long, Piers Wardle

January 11, 2010
by the gentle author

This drawing by Piers Wardle has been on the wall of my office for more than ten years now. I love the irrepressibly joyful smile of this happy dumpster and  it serves as a healthy reminder to me never to take myself too seriously. Significantly, the drawing is made upon a rare piece of lumpy handmade paper made of sheep shit in North Devon. This accounts for the pleasant beige tone of the paper which even has a watermark of a sheep running through it. It is highly characteristic of this clever artist that the dopey cartoon drawing is entirely in contrast with the hidden poetry of this charismatic work.

Piers Wardle, who died unexpectedly over Christmas, was a popular figure in Spitalfields – a participant in the art scene here for the past twenty years, at first as part of Joshua Compston’s Factual Nonsense in Charlotte Rd, including the “Fete Worse Than Death” in Hoxton Sq, and more recently as part of Decima Gallery. Tall and naturally authoritative, with old-fashioned deferential good manners and a disarmingly unsentimental sense of humour, yet equally blessed with a generous kindly spirit, Piers Wardle was an intriguing and attractive man. He cultivated an attitude of amused bewilderment at the absurdity of life and I think of him always primed with some droll unique observation to lighten any moment.

It was in early December, on the day I interviewed John Constable at the Crossbones Cemetery in the Borough, that I last saw him. After the interview, I walked down to visit Piers in his flat in Southwark to borrow a tripod to take the photo of the children outside Leila’s Shop before Christmas. Typically of Piers, he insisted on giving me the tripod as a gift, and instead of just dropping by, I found myself going off to have lunch with him at the local Spanish restaurant. Once we realised we had no money to buy lunch, this became an excuse for a tour around the architectural wonders of the neighbourhood as we searched for a cash machine.

That day he showed me his last artwork. A transparent plastic pin wheel that sat upon the screen of an overhead projector and turned in the heat rising from the light, projecting a revolving image of a star upon the wall. It was elegant in its simplicity, funny and magical too. Although he did not know it, it was a beautiful image to conclude his work as an artist and I am grateful to have last seen Piers then, on an inconsequentially happy day.

We had a nice lunch and, as it was getting dark, we said our goodbyes and I walked back towards Spitalfields, only to discover part of the tripod was missing. It was cold and miserable but in spite of my urge to go straight home, I called Piers and retraced my steps. He buzzed me into the building, I walked up the stairs, he passed me the missing piece of the tripod and with a brief amicable greeting we parted. We were sublimely unaware that after all the years we knew each other, this was the moment when we would never see each other again in this life. In retrospect, the moment is startling for its insignificance and I am glad of it. There is no good way to say goodbye to a friend forever, but there are plenty worse than my farewell to Piers.

Aged 49, Piers died unexpectedly of a brain haemorrhage on 22rd December at his mother’s home at Clyst Hydon in Devon. He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him, including me.

I took this picture of Piers on my phone in the private bar at The Golden Heart, one summer’s evening in 2008 after a Decima Gallery cowboy event.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Deborah permalink
    January 11, 2010

    A beautiful photo of Piers and a lovely way to remember him – I have fond memories of him – he was a considerate and thoughtful man and I was very sad to hear of his death.

  2. January 14, 2010

    A great tribute to a great man. Thank you. He will be sadly missed by myself and all who knew him. Alex, Decima

  3. James Gower permalink
    January 14, 2010

    A heart warming blog. Spitalfields Life has restored my faith in humanity and the power of quality writing.

  4. Peter Davis permalink
    December 1, 2012

    I just stumbled across this about Piers; I did not know that he had died and am shocked to hear. I was a school friend and we got to know each other quite well in the 6th form, where we were the only ones doing painting in Art ‘ A’ level. I have very fond memories of Piers; he was a great encouragement and someone to bounce ideas off, as he was so perceptive and intelligent. Peter (Silverton, Devon).

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