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Work In Progress By Anthony Eyton

October 29, 2014
by the gentle author

Anthony Eyton & His Subject

Anthony Eyton’s new exhibition DRAWING ON HAWKSMOOR opens at Eleven Spitalfields next week, providing the ideal excuse for me to tag along with him yesterday on an afternoon’s drawing trip – as he set his sights upon capturing the epic architecture of Christ Church in pastel upon paper. Those of you who visited Spitalfields Market at the weekend may have seen him there, sitting quietly drawing by the market gates, in the midst of the crowds setting out across Commercial St.

This was our appointed meeting spot and it was from here that I spied Anthony as he emerged from Fournier St, laden with his folding stool and drawing board. A tall grey figure with a white beard walking more slowly than anyone else, he almost appeared to glide along like a spirit from another world. I caught up with him at the coffee stall where downed a shot of expresso that noticeably accelerated his pace across to the market.

Now into his ninth decade, Anthony first came to Spitalfields in 1949, exploring after visiting the Mark Gertler memorial exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery and, since then, he returned regularly over the years, keeping a studio in Hanbury St from 1968 to 1982. Anthony has spent a lifetime painting and drawing London and still sets out fearlessly on the bus from his home in Brixton to work on the streets of the city that is his creative domain.

Once Anthony had set up his stool and placed his board upon his lap, he took a critical look at his work in progress  – a pastel drawing, which he began at the weekend – and then raised his gaze to peer at the spire towering over us, almost white against the clear blue October sky. “I prefer it dirty,” he confessed to me, referring to the cleaning of the church that was once sooty black, “it had more substantiality, this is ghostly.”

The declining sun had left the spire, its light obscured by the towers of the City. “That’s easier,” Anthony commented, “now it’s all the same colour,” and he set to work adding further tone to his drawing, especially in the lower half. “It’s tempting to go up,” he admitted to me, “but the church needs to be grounded.”

By now, I was become aware of the attention that Anthony was drawing, of which he was completely oblivious. Passersby craned their heads to observe the work in progress and, observing me standing at Anthony’s side, they placed me as his mediator. Acknowledging my public role, I was asked, “Am I near Brick Lane?” and “Is this the place to pick up the Easy Bus?”

Anthony relieved me of this responsibility, by drawing my attention back when he declared, “Look at that!”, pointing out a reflected beam of sunlight from the south-west that passed through the portico of the church to create a dramatic shadow of a capital upon the wall to the north. “We’ll probably never see it again,” he announced with a philosophical grin, relishing this new fleeting revelation that had been granted to him in a location he had known for more than sixty years.

Now the sunlight returned, colouring the church with a last golden light and I fell to watching Anthony as he drew. He looked up to the church and made an observation – such as the glow on the eastern horizon, even as the sun was setting in the west – then recording this with a light touch. Anthony’s developing web of spidery lines conjured a shimmering vision of the monolith before us and being party to his method led me to look more closely at what was before us.

“It’s not sitting on anything,” he assured me in dissatisfaction, looking between his drawing and the church, “it’s restless, not firm.” This realisation was the cue for Anthony to lay the paper aside and bring out a tracing of an earlier drawing which outlined just the structure in shadowy lines. “I’m going to have a look at this and se if I can do anything to it,” he said to himself, speaking his thought out loud. He applied pale blue pastel to the sky and smeared it vigorously with a dirty tissue, taking delight in the action. At once, the spire which had appeared inert before seemed to push up into the sky, like the prow of a ship piercing the sea.

“There’s not many people around,” Anthony commented, gazing vaguely up and down Commercial St, “I prefer it on Saturdays and Sundays when it’s crowded.” He began drawing figures into the foreground, including two women in black who stopped to have a conversation on the pavement, and then – to my surprise – he began to add the traffic as we moved towards rush hour.

“I like the contrast of ancient and modern,” he explained as he sketched in cars and vans, “Hawksmoor can take on the transient things.” With this thought, Anthony returned his eyes to the steeple and got lost in awe. “The fragility and the great strength,” he mumbled, “it’s the ultimate Hawksmoor church. He had such ambition, it has the vigorous structure and  geometry of Bach – it’s imperious!”

Now the sun had faded from the sky and the lights were coming on. and Anthony discovered that he was happier with this second drawing than he was with the first.“Perhaps I needed to do that one to do this one?” he queried, wrinkling his brow. “I’ve come to the end of the afternoon,” he announced to me with good-humoured rancour, “I’m at the end of my tether.”

“Look at that, we’ll probably never see it again”

Two women idling become part of Anthony’s drawing

“It’s imperious!”

Anthony Eyton’s exhibition DRAWING ON HAWKSMOOR runs at Eleven Spitalfields from 7th November – 23rd December. Viewing by appointment 020 7247 1816.

You may also like to read about

Anthony Eyton, Painter

The Return of Anthony Eyton

10 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    October 29, 2014

    beautiful, thank you. i don’t think i’ve seen a photograph or a painting of the church which i like better or which gives a better sense of its slimness and wholeness and elegance and separation from its streetscape. and how interesting to hear the artist articulate his problem and to see what he does to solve it, with both his drawing and the church itself before us. thanks again.

  2. October 29, 2014

    Fantastic! What a wonderful artist, he can take on Hawksmoor! Valerie

  3. October 29, 2014

    A lovely portrait (I’ll get my coat)

  4. October 29, 2014

    A fine report about Anthony Eyton’s work in progress. I can see he is a brilliant urban artist! All the best for the exhibition!

    Love & Peace

  5. Adrianne LeMan permalink
    October 29, 2014

    Delighted to see that he is still here and still working. He was on the staff at Camberwell School of Art when I was a student in the late 50s.

  6. Marianne Butler permalink
    October 29, 2014

    Wonderful. His rather beautiful hands bely their ninth decade. I rather agree with him about the attraction of a grubby building!

    Looking forward to the exhibition.

  7. nick borden permalink
    October 29, 2014

    well done, interesting to read and see , hoping to see exhibition

  8. October 29, 2014

    It’s a lovely church and I think the sign on the side “Commit no Nuisance” is hilarious.

  9. Ros permalink
    October 29, 2014

    I love the juxtaposition of your photos of the church with those of Anthony and his work in progress, both of you capturing the building and the particular day. A real pleasure to look at and also to read.

  10. Lesley permalink
    February 27, 2021


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