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James Mackinnon, Artist

January 3, 2021
by the gentle author

To give you a chance to stock up for the cold months ahead, we are having a January sale. All titles in the online shop are half price with the discount code JANUARY until midnight on Twelfth Night.

Click here to visit the Spitalfields Life Bookshop

James Mackinnon’s paintings are featured in EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century which is included in the sale.

Twilight at London Fields, 2012

The streetscapes of James Mackinnon (born 1968), especially those of the East End and of London Fields in particular, captivate the viewer with their powerful atmosphere and magical sense of possibility – an effect compounded by the breathtaking accomplishment of their masterly execution.

“I grew up in South London in Lee Green, so 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.

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.

In the early nineties, I moved to the East End because it was affordable and I had always wanted to explore there. I was slowly drawn to where my heart was guiding me, I would go round the back streets and explore the hinterlands. There is something compelling about going somewhere you do not really know about – the mysterious world of places. The atmosphere of places is born of people and their residue, it’s about people living there.

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. 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. It was an act of faith, I knew it was what I had to do.

I tried having a studio but I was always a struggling artist so, when it came to rent day, it got tricky. There was a lot of signing on the dole and I lived in my studio for a bit to save money on the rent but the landlord found out and it 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 by me rather than anyone else and that has evolved from having done it for twenty years. I just about managed to survive. I learned I have got the tenacity and self belief, that 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 altered already and some of the shops have gone.

I miss Hackney in many ways but I do not miss struggling and rents going up. I was there until around 2013, I had a great time and made some good friends. 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.”

Homage to James Pryde, 2009 (The Mole Man’s House)

Broadway Market

Shops in Morning Lane, 2014

Hackney Canal near Mare St, 2012

Canal, Rosemary Works 2014

Savoy Cafe, Hackney, 2012

James Tower, London Fields, 2012

Alphabeat, 2007

Paintings copyright © James Mackinnon

Take a look at some of the other artists featured in East End Vernacular

Pearl Binder, Artist

Roland Collins, Artist

Anthony Eyton, Artist

Doreen Fletcher, Artist

Barnett Freedman, Artist

Elwin Hawthorn, Artist

Rose Henriques, Artist

Dan Jones,  Artist

Leon Kossoff, Artist

Jock McFadyen, Artist

Cyril Mann, Artist

Peri Parkes, Artist

Henry Silk, Artist

Albert Turpin, Artist

Click here to buy a copy of EAST END VERNACULAR for half price

12 Responses leave one →
  1. January 3, 2021

    All these paintings are very good but the night time ones are really special. I love them.

  2. Nora Franglen permalink
    January 3, 2021

    I have just left a very complimentary comment about your and Silver Locket’s lovely blogs on the Silver Locket blog, so I won’t repeat it here, except to say that I absolutely love your love of the East End of London which hovers always in my memory as a child, accompanying my father immediately after the war to his work as a surveyor and manager of an East End estate centred around Tooley Street. I come from a half-Austrian, Viennese refugee family, and my great uncle, a famous lawyer in Vienna, rescued through my English father’s vouching for him, was employed as a rent collector for my father’s company. He would walk quite safely round the estates, greeted at every door by the tenants whose rents he was collecting, which he then put in his should-bag, with no security around him at all, and with no fear that anybody might rob him. My father, and the Southwark MP, whose name I have forgotten, fought hard to stop them tearing down all the little houses, where families lived together on the same street, and washed their front steps together. My father always said that replacing the little streets with huge skyscrapers had torn the soul from the area, so I love to keep some of my memories of those streets alive through your blogs and books. Thank you for doing that.

  3. January 3, 2021

    Superb and stunning work James…..I grew up in this area and those scenes are all familiar to me particularly Morning Lane and Broadway Market. You have captured the very essence of the area….some gems amongst the gloom. It’s been a trip down memory lane for me this morning, thank you. My late brother was an artist, also sleeping in his studio in Vyner Street …..until the landlord found out!
    I know Hastings well, when I’m able to venture there again I will look out for your very fine work if you are still painting. I wonder if you display in the Jerwood or other local galleries there?
    Thanks also GA for sharing James’s remarkable talent with us all.

  4. Richard Smith permalink
    January 3, 2021

    Hello GA, thank you for brightening up my Sunday morning with the paintings. James is clearly a very gifted artist I particularly like the one of the Hackney Canal. Happy New Year!

  5. aubrey permalink
    January 3, 2021

    The Mole Man’s house. I knew the Mole Man; but by another name. I visit his premises on more than one occasion in the 80’s in a professional capacity. I was worried about him undermining the large house’s existing foundations but he never did. He just kept digging. He was a very pleasant and disarming man. I remember many people in the area were very uncomfortable and concerned about his continuous excavations. The building site remained a cause of concern for many years and was a subject which was highlighted in the local press and brought up, occasionally, by the local councillors.

  6. January 3, 2021

    THIS is a marvelous book, and I love having it in my art library. Although this is a nuance,
    I especially love the cover. The image is printed on a wonderfully-tactile book cloth, “almost” like you are holding the actual painting in your hands, as you carry the volume to a comfy chair to read. And it is a lovely book to spend time with. Brew some coffee or tea, (your reading glasses are in the kitchen – better have those, you don’t want to miss a detail…….) and settle in and enjoy this incredibly unique group of artists.

    Thank you, Mr. Publisher…….and Mr. Shrodinger.

  7. January 3, 2021

    I really love James’s work, beautiful colours and compositions, I’d describe it as ‘the magic of the ordinary’.

  8. Saba permalink
    January 3, 2021

    Stunning use of form and color, really gorgeous.

  9. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 3, 2021

    James Mackinnon is one of my favourite artists featured in East End Vernacular.

    Like Doreen Fletcher he manages to capture the spirit of the East End as well as the actual details of the buildings and landscapes in very satisfying and colourful compositions.

    And like her work his paintings will be even more interesting in years to come when the East End has changed yet again.

  10. Martin Togher permalink
    January 3, 2021

    I lived with James in a flat on Navarino Road in the 90s for about 8 months. We shared some great times, our front room became his studio & bedroom, always had a lot of art on the go.

  11. January 4, 2021

    Remarkably evocative paintings. Hopperesque almost.

  12. Elin Sputnesset permalink
    May 22, 2021

    The paintings of the London houses, and especially the nighttime ones, have an spirit that make me long for London SE, Lee and long gone times.

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