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Some Doreen Fletcher East End Paintings

December 4, 2018
by the gentle author

Doreen Fletcher & I will be at Waterstones Bookshop, 82 Gower St, from 6pm today Tuesday 4th December as part of their Christmas Jamboree. Doreen will be signing copies of DOREEN FLETCHER, PAINTINGS and I will be signing copies of THE LIFE & TIMES OF MR PUSSY.

Please also join us next year at the Private View of Doreen Fletcher’s RETROSPECTIVE at Nunnery Gallery, Bow Arts, on 24th January from 6pm. The exhibition runs until March 24th 2019.

Today Doreen Fletcher tells the stories behind some of her early East End paintings.

“Turners Road (1988) depicts the corner of a condemned street in Stepney and it is a reminder of a past gone forever, swept away by the tide of development. In 1988, there were reminders everywhere of the East End’s sub-cultures, from graffiti claiming ‘George Davis is innocent’ to the more anarchic ‘G. Fawkes is innocent.’

Behind the orange and blue curtains of the bomb-shattered windows lived a middle-aged recluse. He wore a detective’s mackintosh whatever the weather and worked obsessively each day on the engine of a rusty old van parked on the wasteland next to the sewer chimney. Even in those days, there was no hope of the vehicle ever becoming roadworthy and, each year, his mackintosh became grubbier as more bits of the engine were cast aside on the grass.

I moved to the East End in 1983 when local people were keen to move out of the bomb-damaged, crumbling terraces. They either wanted to leave the area completely or transfer into more modern compact dwellings that were being built at the time.

Many of the empty houses which remained were inhabited by artists on short-term tenancies and the house I lived in Clemence St was one of these. Directly opposite was a five-storey block of flats built in the fifties called Flansham House and I was particularly friendly with the couple who lived on the ground floor, Albert and June Brown. Albert lost a leg in an accident at the docks but on fine days he would sit on the step with his Pekingese dog Flossie and canary. Albert was also frequently to be found in the Prince Alfred at the end of the street and I always remember Albert telling me that the landlord was a foreigner, born in Bethnal Green!”

Rene’s Café (1986) was situated at the opposite end of Turner’s Rd and formed part of the triangle of Locksley St, Clemence St and Turner’s Rd. When I first saw the café in 1983, it reminded me of the greasy spoon cafes in the Potteries where I grew up. The faded blue and white paintwork recalled seaside cafés lining the promenade at northern seaside resorts. The distinctive pale light of the East End and the austerity of the late nineteenth century building compounded these feelings.

The café opened early for the council workers and bin men before their day’s work. When I passed it in the morning on my way to the life-modelling sessions I undertook to keep myself at that time, the windows were steamed up and it exuded an aroma of bacon and cigarette smoke wafting on the frosty air. Sounds of raucous laughter emanated from within and, to my eternal regret, I never ate a ‘full English breakfast’ there as it seemed a male preserve. By the time I returned home the café was closed, shutting shortly after lunch.

Six months after my arrival, the café closed forever. It remained for some time before bulldozers came along and it fell victim to the encroaching tide of development, as did the nearby lino shop in my next painting.”


“I did not complete The Lino Shop (2003) until twenty years after I made my first studies. Like a lot of my subjects, the memory of the shop haunted me for a long time before I got around to the painting. In hindsight, with the knowledge of its closure in early 1984 and demolition a few years later, it is remarkable that the property lasted so long. Even during its existence, it appeared to be a throwback to a previous era – a lone outpost selling ‘fancy goods’ alongside ‘lino’ in a backwater.

I think the term ‘lino’ is outdated now, but I remember the excitement I felt when my mum and dad purchased lino for my bedroom.  It was light grey with a geometric pattern of darker grey diagonals and red slashes. At the time, I thought it was very sophisticated.

I could not see any ‘fancy goods’ in the shop window but I do remember entering the shop once to buy a doormat. There were tall hourglass shaped vases and a few crudely-painted pottery figures. Finally, there were statues of goldfish with solid fins swooping hither and thither. These – I assume – comprised the fancy goods.”

The Albion Pub (1992) in Bow, situated just beside the Railway Arch and next to the path through Mile End Park, was opened in 1881 and demolished in 2006. It was one of the first pubs I visited in the East End and I still remember the friendly atmosphere of the snug with leather benches and ancient rectangular tables. The walls were lined with decorative plates and shelves filled with gleaming ‘knick-knacks.’ The landlady was pleasant and welcoming, and I frequented it for several years until she told us that she and her husband were moving to Clacton.

I decided to paint The Albion because to me it was representative of everything that was worth preserving about the East End. The inclusiveness and welcoming of incomers like myself, the openness of the landlady and the pride she took in keeping her pub spotless.”




2 Responses leave one →
  1. Rupert Bumfrey permalink
    December 4, 2018

    Doreen’s work is superb, a great archive of lives lived and no more, swept away in pursuit of new and shiny!

    Well done TGA for unearthing her creations.

  2. December 4, 2018

    I give up! It is impossible to select a favorite from this remarkable array of work. Besides — its more fun to scan each painting, and notice the grace notes. For example, in the final painting “The Albion” I was drawn to the advertising sign above the entrance that seemingly waits for “the next thing”. I can imagine the crusty remnants of previous signs that still linger there — my idea of divine imperfection, captured perfectly by Ms. Fletcher. And, I wonder if maybe the marks in the window on the right are defunct venetian blinds; now disorderly and sad… contrast to the welcoming atmosphere of the previous business? And I’m captivated when one building casts a shadow against the face of another? – like a stranger entering a room. On and on.
    And, to add to the enjoyment, my copy of the new book about Ms Fletcher arrived yesterday. I am so happy to add this volume to my art library. Hurrah, Ms. Fletcher and GA. Onward!

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