I used to love walking along the Regent’s Canal throughout the changing seasons, observing the freestanding red chimney on its bank that I have depicted in my Summer & Winter Canal paintings. It stands not far from where I used to live in Clemence Street. Further along is the Ragged School Museum looming up as an unusual wedge shape on the other side of Ben Jonson Road that I have returned to several times in my painting, and just beyond these lies the Gasometer situated on the opposite bank next to Johnson’s lock.
I made a drawing study for the Gasometer over twenty years ago; researching the development of the plot of land that surrounds the edifice, I read that planning permission was first applied for in 1998 and it took five years for the developers to satisfy the associated conditions. To my mind these were far too lenient as the development of this site paved the way for the subsequent rebuilding of a large stretch of Ben Jonson Road. The parade of shops where I painted The Launderette and The Hairdressers has now been transformed into a row of anonymous and very bland apartment blocks, which seem incongruous to the local character of the area.
However, not everyone agreed with my feelings about the Gasometer. In the 1960s, the architectural critic Ian Nairn (1930-1983) compared its location in Stepney to ‘keeping a hippo in a patio garden’. I can’t agree with this statement. To my eye the ever-changing light on the surface of the plate ironwork gives a subtle appearance framed by the wrought ironwork structure. This transience drifts across the monumental surface and lends the gasometer a poetry more akin to the views of contemporary visual poet, Victoria Bean, who likened gasometers to ‘a great grey lung suspended inside a rusty lace cage’.
I returned to making images again in 2013, and my initial intention was to learn the process of etching, perhaps to buy an etching press of my own. It was something I enjoyed learning about and experimenting with at the time as its various techniques helped me to develop new approaches, exploring and extending my drawing practice. Inevitably though, once I opened my paints I was drawn back to the world of colour and I like to think that this image in some way traces that return.
Doreen Fletcher 2020
The Gasometer 2020 oil on canvas 102 x 76cm (40 x 30”) framed