Skip to content

Peri Parkes’ Conder St Paintings

December 2, 2019
by Fiona Atkins

Fiona Atkins who curated the current exhibition at Townhouse Spitalfields considers the first pictures Peri Parkes painted while living in Conder St, Stepney. In these works, he evolved subtly from the academic style of the Slade towards a recognition of the presence of people in the East End.

These paintings and more are on display until Sunday 8th December in ‘Peri Parkes, The Last View.’

Conder St 1, 1979

The years after Peri Parkes left the Slade were turbulent ones for him. He had married while he was there and they had the first of his two daughters shortly after, but by 1979 he and his wife had divorced and he moved in with his artist friend Martin Ives, who was living in a prefab run by Acme Housing Association on Conder St, off Salmon Lane in Stepney.

In the seventies, artists were at college for four or five years but were given no practical advice on how to survive or make a living in the world. Afterwards, they were faced with the prospect of finding a studio, buying materials and equipment and then, unable to make a living as artists, finding a job to pay for it. Inevitably, artists cut costs to reduce the amount of time spent working and devote as much time as possible to their art.

Acme Housing Association was started in 1972 to provide studio and living space for artists, by working with the Greater London Council and taking derelict properties for low rents. The GLC had thousands of such properties on its hands, bought by compulsory purchase as part of plans for post-war redevelopment before the money ran out in the economic downturn of the seventies.

Thus Peri Parkes lived at 9 Conder St in the late seventies and early eighties while working as an art teacher locally. His paintings show the influence of William Coldstream who had been Head of the Slade. During Peri’s time there, Coldstream had started to paint a series of views of Westminster from the seventeenth floor of the Department of the Environment. Although probably not originally conceived as a series, his biographer Bruce Laughton says he kept seeing new configurations each time he finished one. This may also be true of Peri’s paintings of the backs of houses in Conder St. They reveal the same desire to show new configurations, which can be used to put most of this series of paintings in order.

The painting above appears to be the first of the Conder St series of paintings of backs of houses and was probably painted shortly after Peri arrived in the East End in 1979. It has a tight, linear structure, the bricks in the walls at the front are all carefully delineated and Coldstream-style ‘dots and dashes’ for measurements are visible. The paint is applied in broad washes of colour, particularly on the backs of the houses themselves, which gives a luminous glow to the colour.

By the second Conder St painting below, Peri’s style is looser. The tree reflected in the window is painted more freely, the bricks are indicated rather than painted individually and the colour is no longer applied in expanses of colour. The angle of the painting is different too and Peri’s gaze is more focused on the foreground and the collection of a picket fence, a compost bin and a washing line.

The third painting of Conder St was titled ‘House in the East’ at the Tolly Cobbold Eastern Arts exhibition. The focus in this picture is on the same view as the previous painting but with the addition of foliage.

Peri Parkes wrote a statement in the catalogue: ‘This was painted in the space of a year. I hope something of the building’s organic structure (moisture, decomposition) has registered in the painting. At the very beginning, a rich snakeskin pattern of moss down a wall was the painting’s main focal point. One day it was scraped away. Nonetheless, I have determined that its absence remains the main focus of the painting.’

It is curious that, although for Peri the absence of the moss was the focus, it is not depicted in the finished painting. He had written in an essay for his teacher’s training: ‘By imagination I do not mean the ability to invent, but to inhabit, to find oneself in everything.’

This painting illustrates Peri’s desire to ‘inhabit’ his paintings and paint as though ‘touching the surface,’ in order that his brushstrokes reflected what he knew had once been there, so his sensation of it would inhabit the painting. This notion came from Peri’s teacher at the Slade, Patrick George, who had been at Camberwell College of Art after the war with William Coldstream. His paintings are a search for the essence of his subject rather than a literal representation. Patrick George was one of the curators of the Tolly Cobbold exhibition for which this painting was selected in 1981, Peri’s first recorded exhibited work.

The similarity in Peri’s style, palette and treatment of the foliage suggests that the fourth Conder St painting was done at the same time as ‘House in the East.’ Ten years later, Peri successfully submitted it for exhibition in the RA Summer Show of 1995, suggesting that this was a painting which continued to satisfy him.

The fifth Conder St picture represents a complete change of approach: an exploration of the visual logic of the relationship between the lines and the structure holding it all together, which renders the painting almost abstract in places. Interestingly though, there is the suggestion of two figures, the first in Peri’s work. They are faceless and probably hanging out washing – representing a virtual constant of life rather than any individual – but something so frequently observed it became a fundamental part of his world in the East End.

Conder St 2, c.1980

Conder St 3, House in the East, c. 1980-1

Conder St 4, c.1982

Conder St 5, c.1982 – in this painting, figures appear for the first time

Conder St 6, c. 1981-2

Conder St 7, c. 1981-2

Paintings copyright © Estate of Peri Parkes

You may also like to read about

Peri Parkes’ East End Paintings

2 Responses leave one →
  1. December 2, 2019

    Peri’s paintings are making me feel homesick……for my old home in the East End.
    Everything looks so familiar……..

  2. December 3, 2019

    A very fine Impressionist Art Work!

    Love & Peace

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS