I am asked quite often why so few people seem to populate my paintings. Is it intentional? It is… partly because I want the buildings to speak for themselves and I think a crowd would place too much emphasis on the actions and interactions of the participants.
Another reason, often overlooked, was the way East London was changing as I began painting it. Workers and their families were moving away from the choked arteries of the A13 and A12 and leaving behind (so they thought), cramped, dilapidated housing or the soulless modern concrete structures built as its replacement. The East End was undergoing considerable social change and I was painting the London that remained.
I remember wandering around streets at the weekend in the early seventies carrying a primitive looking Zeiss Ikon camera that had the best lens of any camera I have owned since, capturing in black and white the atmosphere of those streets, so silent and deserted; these were a faint echo of the scenes photographer Nicholas Sack published in the book, Lost in the City, 2015, and how poignant, in terms of where we find ourselves today.
It leads me to reflect that this period of enforced self-isolation we are now encountering is not totally negative. For visual artists, experiencing the void can lead to a sharpening of perception as we become acutely conscious of the need for increased separation, space and distance.
Even when the redevelopment of the London Docks began, the streets off the main thoroughfares would be empty for large parts of the day, and it is probably forgotten now that the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) in its early days failed to operate at the weekend with no office or construction workers to transport. Then, just as the flowerbeds and trees were being positioned with great care and attention around the tower at Canary Wharf… the economy collapsed (again), leading to large swathes of real estate remaining empty.
Sorting through my store cupboard the other day I came across a painting from that time, Meridian Gate, Docklands. I always thought of it a little too cold and a bit too clean, but maybe because of its age or partly because our city streets are once again deserted, the image seems to have taken on an atmosphere that chimes with the situation in late 2020.
Doreen Fletcher 2020
Meridian Gate (1989) £2,800 76 x 61cm (30 x 24″) unframed
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