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Harry T Harmer, Artist

August 5, 2022
by the gentle author

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St Botolph’s Without Aldgate, 1963

The facts of the life of Harry T. Harmer (1927-2013) are scarce yet his distinctive paintings speak eloquently of his personal vision. Born in Kennington, Harry was afflicted with epilepsy and married his wife Ruby when they were both in their adolescence. Ruby offered Harry emotional support in the face of a father who did not recognise his disorder and the couple enjoyed a marriage that lasted through eight decades.

Disqualified from military service, Harry worked in the parks department and, possessing a strong sense of justice, he fought for the rights of fellow workers through many years as a union representative. In the mid-fifties, Harry discovered an ability to draw and paint, travelling around Kennington and north of the river to the East End, making sketches of places that embodied the living city he knew intimately.

Harry had his first exhibition in 1963 and continued to paint and show his works for the rest of his life. Although sometimes described as a naive artist, it is obvious that the sensibility behind Harry’s painting is far from unsophisticated. His compelling pictures are concerned with more than straightforward representation of places, offering instead emotional landscapes of the lives of working people rendered in his own individual style.

Ruby keeps Harry’s treasured copy of the drawings of L. S. Lowry in two volumes as a token of his major artistic influence. Yet Harry forged a visual language of his own, placing his curious bird-like figures strategically within a delicately painted streetscape that appears on the point of dissolving.

For most of their married life, Harry and Ruby Harmer occupied a council flat in a dignified Victorian terrace in Kennington, where Ruby lives today tending to an appealingly unkempt garden and a posse of neighbourhood cats. In the back room overlooking the garden where Harry did his paintings, his small formica topped work table still stands by the window where now a box of his ashes sits beside a bunch of fresh flowers that Ruby changes each week. The popularity of Harry’s works means that Ruby is the devoted custodian of just a few of her husband’s paintings, and a suitcase of his pencil sketches, press cuttings and exhibition catalogues.

Wellclose Sq, 1962

St Katharine’s Way, 1962

Cable St, 1962

Harry T. Harmer, 2009

Paintings copyright © Ruby Harmer

Published courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives

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

John Allin, Artist

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

Ronald Morgan, Artist

Grace Oscroft, Artist

Peri Parkes, Artist

Henry Silk, Artist

Albert Turpin, Artist

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

One Response leave one →
  1. August 5, 2022

    I love Harry’s ‘Lowry like’ paintings, capturing these East End street scenes in a simple yet atmospheric style.
    Thank you for sharing these.

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