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Peri Parkes’ East End

November 17, 2019
by the gentle author

One of the great joys of compiling my book East End Vernacular, artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th Century was discovering artists who were new to me.

An outstanding example was Peri Parkes who painted the East End in the eighties and is now to have the first solo show of his paintings posthumously at Town House Gallery in Spitalfields, opening on Friday 22nd November and running until 8th December.

Many of these paintings are being hung publicly for the first time.

Email to attend the preview on Thursday 21st November.

House in the East, 1980-81

It was through the artist Doreen Fletcher, who is celebrated for her paintings of the East End, that I first learnt about the work of Peri Parkes.

Doreen wrote, ‘My good friend Peri Parkes was perhaps the artist with the most integrity I have ever met. His standards were so high that he was reluctant to exhibit anything he produced, always finding the outcome lacking somehow. Fellow artists tried hard to persuade him to have a one man show to no avail. He painted the East End assiduously during the eighties until he took a teaching post in Cornwall in 1992, however he continued to revisit to Bow right up until his death too soon at the age of fifty-six.’

On Doreen’s recommendation, I took the train to Hertford to meet Peri’s daughters, Lucie & Zoe who showed me fifty of their father’s paintings which have been mostly stored in a cupboard since he died in 2009. The quality and significance of this work was immediately apparent and I knew at once that I must devote a chapter in my book East End Vernacular, Artists Who Painted London’s East End Streets in the 20th Century to celebrate the rare talent and rigorous vision of Peri Parkes.

Out of the tragedy of a broken relationship, Peri Parkes created a transcendent series of paintings and it is impossible not to touched by the self portraits that he included in his work, of the lonely man walking in the park or climbing onto his bike.

Lucie & Zoe are the custodians of this legacy and they spoke affectionately to me about their father as we sat surrounded by his wonderful paintings.

Zoe – My father was from Hampstead Garden Suburb in Finchley. He had a Greek mother – who named him Pericles, she came from quite a well-to-do family and his father was a solicitor. Dad was born and grew up there but he left home very young, about sixteen. Then he met Lindsey, my mum, and they had me when he was just eighteen. My grandmother bought a house in Ridge Rd Crouch End and we all lived there.

Lucie – When he was nineteen, he got a scholarship to the Slade. I should add that when he was sixteen, he went off to Afghanistan, back-packing. He and mum first met at the railway station, just before he was about to leave and there was obviously a spark. Once he came back, they met up again and married when he was eighteen and mum was seventeen.

Zoe – When I was a baby, he used to take me off to college with him. He put me on his back and off we would go to the Slade.

Lucie – Mum had agoraphobia after she had Zoe, so he had to take her with him – a nineteen-year-old with his baby.

Zoe – They split up when I was six and Lucie was three, around 1979. He went to stay with his friend Martin Ives in a prefab in Conder St, Stepney and we stayed with our mum in her mum’s house. After that he got a housing association flat next to Bow Rd Station and then he moved just around the corner to Mornington Grove.

Lucie – He never had a studio, he just painted in the flat where he lived. He was completely unmaterialistic and his whole flat was his studio with bare floors, bare walls, furniture that he picked up from skips or off the street, boxes and then piles and piles of paints. All over the furniture there was paint splatters and full ashtrays. He did not really ever think about comfort.

Zoe – He was so driven by painting. He had a one track mind. He did not really want anything else in life but to be able to paint and to go to the pub.

Lucie – We used to go and stay with him every other weekend in the prefabs and hang around in the back yard, I remember doing snail races and counting slugs while he painted.

Zoe – He took us round galleries quite a lot, which as children was quite boring to us – but he used to get very enthusiastic about things he wanted to see.

Lucie – To say he was very self-absorbed is only half the picture because he was not egotistical, he was actually quite a humble person, and a loving and affectionate dad. I remember lying in bed in the prefabs when it was freezing cold and he used to tell us stories, and they were brilliant. We loved him and loved being with him, but he was not really able to give to his relationships because everything was about painting.

Zoe – I think he struggled with depression a lot, whether it was to do rejection as an artist or with not getting things right. He was a real perfectionist and he had massive temper flare ups if he was not satisfied with his work. Yet he had a real community in London. He used to go to the Coborn Arms every night and he had a crew of friends there.

Lucie – Nothing he did was ever right or good enough for him. He was always striving to be better. He could not give his paintings away let alone sell them but, if he did give one away to a family member, he took it back because it was not quite good enough. If he was here now, he would be looking at his paintings, very dissatisfied, and he would want to make changes.

He was driven to paint what he saw in front of him. I do not think he was driven to tell the story of the East End, it was just that, wherever he was, he painted obsessively to capture what he was seeing. Most of them are from his window in his living room or the back of his prefab.

Zoe – He was always submitting pictures for exhibitions and competitions, and he took the rejection quite personally.

Lucie – When his relationship broke down with mum he was deeply hurt. I think the more things went wrong in his life, the more he channelled everything into painting. I can remember him taking us home on the tube once and him looking at us and tears pouring down his face. That sticks with me because I knew then that he really cared and was hurt by the whole thing, but he could not express any of that – it all went into his painting.

Zoe – I look at these paintings and I see them as dad’s life at the time, from the time arrived in the East End in 1977 until he left in 1992. The style at the beginning is quite different from the later ones. He went on holiday to the tiny town of St Just on the farmost westerly point of Cornwall and fell in love with it. The day after returning from holiday he saw a job for a part time art teacher there in the newspaper, it was like an act of fate. He had taught Art at the Blessed John Roche School in Poplar and he wanted out of London. He loved it in Cornwall and lived in the most remote place. He said Cornwall was as close as he could get to Greece in this country.

Arnold Circus, 1990-92

The Dinner Ladies, c.1986-9 (Wellington Way School, Bow E3)

Wellington Way School E3, 1985-6

Bow Triangle in Winter, 1990-92

The Departure, c.1992-4 (Mornington Grove, Bow E3)

Bow Church, c.1987-92

Conder St, Stepney, 1977-80

Conder St, Stepney, c.1980

City view from St Bernard’s School, St Matthew’s Row, E2, c.1987  (Click on this image to enlarge)

Paintings copyright © Estate of Peri Parkes

Click here to buy a copy of EAST END VERNACULAR for £25

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert permalink
    November 17, 2019

    What a wonderful collection of paintings. I’ve started planning a trip to see them – I hope his children are proud that their father is being recognised now.

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 17, 2019

    Great stuff – I’m looking forward to seeing the actual paintings at the Townhouse.

    Just a shame he didn’t get the recognition he deserved while he was still alive.

  3. November 17, 2019

    Absolutely amazing paintings. Peri is so worthy of inclusion in East End Vernacular.
    Thank you GA for sharing the work of often unknown ….but hugely talented artists discovered whilst researching your book.

  4. Milo Bell permalink
    November 17, 2019

    What brilliant pictures! Alas i’m not in London otherwise i’d be down at that exhibition so fast… You can see his perfectionism in each one, in the breathtaking detail and the atmosphere he evokes. What an artist.

  5. November 17, 2019

    These are such good paintings. What a shame he was unable to exhibit them in his lifetime.

  6. November 17, 2019

    What a wonderful talent! Looking forward to visiting the exhibition!

  7. November 17, 2019

    These paintings communicate a deep sense of nostalgia. Wonderful.

  8. Bernie permalink
    November 17, 2019

    I’m no art expert, but I know what I like and if I were able would line my walls with Peri’s work!

    Incidentally, two A-Z street guides of different ages show no “Condor” St in Stepney, but do show a “Conder” St just south of Limehouse Fields Estate, near Limehouse DLR station.

  9. Dave R permalink
    November 17, 2019

    Very few painters can perform this kind of alchemy that absolutely fixes the feel of a time and place, even to the hour. Many thanks for sharing the rare and miraculous talent of Peri Parkes.

  10. Pauline Taylor permalink
    November 17, 2019

    These paintings are superb and the story of the artist compelling, i think it is true to say that the most talented artists are always striving to produce something better and Peri proves that. His work reminds me so much of Carel Weight who taught painting at Colchester School of Art when I was there. Carel would have liked these I know and higher praise one cannot give, these are really national treasures and well done for spotting them GA.

  11. Nicholas permalink
    November 17, 2019

    Look forward to seeing these

  12. November 17, 2019

    Wonderful evocative paintings. I think most of it has gone.

  13. Susan Jackson permalink
    November 17, 2019

    What a very interesting article—thanks for sharing and sharing some of the paintings also. I am really glad that his daughters are the custodian of his paintings. My husband is an artist and I always wonder what is going to happen to them all when we are gone.

  14. Richard Smith permalink
    November 17, 2019

    Thank you for showing us these paintings GA. They are wonderful and Peri Parkes must be remembered and his legacy preserved.

  15. Kristine Dillon permalink
    November 17, 2019

    Thanks for sharing these paintings with us. They stir something in my soul and I certainly find them beautiful. I enjoyed reading about Parkes but I always find it touching when someone diminishes the value of what they’ve created because they simply cannot see how lovely it really is. Sadly he is not the first artist to suffer this fate.

  16. November 17, 2019

    Great to see those views around Wellington Way school, my first school. Did he paint any others of that area?

  17. Anne permalink
    November 20, 2019

    I knew Peri very well, such a lovely man, taught Art where I also worked in Cornwall and he gave me private tutorials on his techniques, I learnt so much from him. So glad his daughters have his paintings to remember him by, such a comfort.

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