I am a great fan of the Robert Elms show, which goes out on BBC Radio London every weekday morning. The strap line for the show is ‘Everything you want to know about London – from Architecture to Accents and Great Music’. I am a Londoner so it is a ‘must listen’ for me.
Robert is famed for having lived in a squat in the early eighties with his girlfriend of the time, Sade, the famous eighties singer. Every week he invites Maxwell Hutchinson onto the show, to do an architectural feature which I always try to tune into. Last year I was listening in when Robert was reviewing a new book called ‘East End Vernacular’. The book was a compilation of artists who had painted East End Streets in the 20th Century.
I immediately went out and bought a copy and it has since enjoyed a prime spot in my pile of ‘coffee table’ books on art and architecture. In my view there were three standout artists in the book: Walter Steggles, Elwin Hawthorne and Doreen Fletcher. Harold Steggles who was also featured in the book that nearly made it into my top three. He was Walter’s brother. The Steggles brothers and Elwin Hawthorne were members of the East London Group. Although almost forgotten by art historians, this group was one of the most innovative and productive to flourish in Britain in the first half of the 20th.century.
When I read that Doreen Fletcher was having a retrospective at the Nunnery Gallery I had to go. The gallery is a free public gallery with a local focus championing the works of emerging artists and uncovering local history and heritage. It is situated in a unique building on the ground floor of a former 20th century convent, surrounded by Bow Arts Studios. Doreen’s work is of the East End landscapes and its buildings from 1983 until 2004. For twenty years Fletcher painted the streets of East London, until she became discouraged by the lack of recognition and giving up in 2004. Only a chance meeting with The Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life brought her paintings to public attention in 2015. The retrospective reveals the full breadth of her achievements between 1983 and 2004, showing the largest selection of her paintings together as well as previous unseen pictures from her private collection.
The paintings reveal the dramatic changes of East London’s streets across just three decades, remembering businesses long forgotten and buildings that have since been knocked down. By the time I visited the exhibition all of the few pieces available for sale were sold at four figure prices. The exhibition is a must-see – it is on until Sunday 24 March.
For more information visit: www.bowarts.org