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Visit Giorgione In Clapton

March 30, 2016
by the gentle author

You can visit GIORGIONE IN CLAPTON from tomorrow, 31st March until 21st May

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 twenty-seven 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 in the eighteenth century 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, as the home to the Odessa recording studios – employed by Iron Maiden, Dire Straits, The Police and Pete Doherty among others – as innumerable artists’ studios and recently as the premises of a foam rubber business.

Yet uncertainty over the future 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 early seventies, 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.

More than fifteen 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. If he is forced to leave, he 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 a lot more than sixty paintings,” he admitted to me, “but if I live long enough I would like to attempt the very large paintings I’ve not yet done.”

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

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

Giorgione in Clapton, The Tram Depot, 38-40 Upper Clapton Rd, E5 8BQ, until 21st May

5 Responses leave one →
  1. Peter Holford permalink
    March 30, 2016

    A talented man and some very interesting history

  2. Polly permalink
    March 30, 2016

    How lovely! Wish I were on the right side of the Atlantic to come see! Thank you for sharing, and best of luck to Mr. Easterbrook.

  3. JeanM permalink
    March 30, 2016

    What a very talented man, his paintings are amazing. I wish him well for the future.

  4. pauline taylor permalink
    March 30, 2016

    I am a great admirer of Giorgione and I agree completely with Vasari, who certainly knew what he was talking about, that Giorgione was the peer of Leonardo and Michelangelo. Thanks for highlighting this here and for showing more of this man’s copies in Clapton. Great stuff and all power to his elbow, or should that be brush?


  5. Katya permalink
    March 30, 2016

    Magical and wonderful, worthy of a special Turner Prize for True Talent.

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