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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

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Classof65 permalink
    October 15, 2017

    What lovely pictures! Wish I could afford them all… Thank you for allowing them space and, to the artist, thank you for painting them.

  2. October 15, 2017

    I love James’s work. Too many favourites here, but to this untrained eye, Early Doors at the Shakespeare seems almost Vermeer’y. Also, I’d snap up Back St, St Leonard’s in a moment, had I the oof.

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    October 15, 2017

    Brilliant stuff again. And like James I love walking the streets and turning a corner and having a ‘wow’ moment when an unexpected building suddenly appears. One of the joys of London is the juxtaposition of seemingly random styles of architecture and buildings. So glad he has captured so much of it… Looking forward to seeing the exhibition!

  4. Sue permalink
    October 15, 2017

    Early doors is so evocative of London pubs of my youth.
    Marvellous work.

  5. October 15, 2017

    The St Leonard paintings are wonderful, really captured the light and atmosphere of the place. Like many of us ex Londoners, we wash up by this beautiful coastline. Wishing James all the best and thank you GA.

  6. October 15, 2017

    I especially love “Early Doors”……….not because it reminds me of a familiar/recalled place and time…….but because it TAKES me to a place I have never been, and ignites the experience. In my imagination, I can feel the nap of the worn carpet, I can imagine who is about to emerge behind the partition (dog walker), I can hear the quiet whistles of the barman readying his work station,
    I imagine the flashes of people and lighting reflected in all those mirrors, etc. An astute
    series of evocative paintings.

    Also, I recently received my pre-ordered copy of “East End Vernacular” and it is an amazing
    volume. I am so happy to have this in my art library. A keeper!

  7. pauline taylor permalink
    October 15, 2017

    A true artist, Great, Wonderful, what more can one say.

  8. Carolyn Badcock permalink
    October 16, 2017

    What a major talent are you, James Mackinnon!! Brilliant! Love that person coming into the pub with the dog leading……….

  9. Eddie Johnson permalink
    October 16, 2017

    The paintings are wonderful, they all are. I loved the one of the Post Office. I recognised it right away, next to the ~Morpeth Castle pub (long gone) in Cadogan Terrace. My Mum & Dad were friendly with the couple who ran it just after & during the war, they used to go to banquets with them, I think he may have been a Mason, I’ve got photos’ somewhere of my Mum & Dad in a group picture with the couple, all dressed up in hired evening clothes, very unusual for our class of people in those days.

    Eddie Johnson

  10. Grace Caruso permalink
    October 16, 2017

    Hi: So many wonderful paintings. This may not be possible but I wonder whether any of the art that you show us is available in poster form or in individual prints. It would be great. Are there specific web sites for this sort of thing? Just wondering..

  11. Marcia Howard permalink
    October 17, 2017

    What fabulous images – and a great blog so thank you GA.
    Buildings ‘talk’ to me too and it’s a joy to spot an especially interesting feature tucked in at the side of a door, window or archway. I love architecture, old and modern. Sadly I don’t have James Mackinnon’s painting skills, but am never without my camera so take a lot of photographs of what I see.
    Lucky Hastings to now have James living there. That is also a place that has had its ups and downs, but hopefully, James is capturing that town too, especially the Old Hastings where the drying nets of the fishermen stand tall, towered over by the cliff railway which give such far reaching views from the top.

  12. Steven Burr permalink
    October 17, 2017

    I love these, I would love to have just one each is amazing!

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