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Peri Parkes’ East End

June 7, 2024
by the gentle author

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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

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    June 7, 2024

    I look at these paintings and I am back .
    It reminds me of that old East End saying ,”You can take the boy away from Stepney ,but you can’t take away Stepney from inside the boy .”

    What makes this article superlative is the interchange between the daughters and the pictures themselves .

    Thank you from all that is good for the time you gave me Gentle Author and wanting to hear my story . It is rare to get this . Bless you .

    I reckon there are many East Enders out there with some special stories just hoping and waiting somebody would listen to them .

  2. June 7, 2024

    What wonderful work, I’m so glad you discovered Peri Parkes through Doreen Fletcher (I can see how she was influenced by his style). I visited St Just on holidays to Cornwall as a young child – I quite understand why Peri was captivated by the place.

  3. June 7, 2024

    Peri has captured images of the East End I grew up in and has painted them with such honesty.
    They are perfect.
    Thank you to Zoe and Lucie for sharing this poignant story.

  4. June 7, 2024

    ….and of course the influence could well have been the other way around as both artists worked in the same period!

  5. Milo permalink
    June 7, 2024

    Mr Parkes’ paintings are in a class of their own. Brilliant.

  6. Bernie permalink
    June 7, 2024

    Amazingly photographic quality.

  7. June 7, 2024

    These paintings are quite amazing: thanks so much for revealing them to us!

  8. Cherub permalink
    June 7, 2024

    I love the one of Arnold Circus.

  9. Marcia Howard permalink
    June 7, 2024

    An absolutely wonderful collection of images – and memories. A true talent, as was Doreen Fletcher’s. I trust he found his new life in Cornwall fulfilling, and wonderful to think that he will have shared his talents and passions with those Cornish students.

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