I found myself drawn to this district line station as I began passing by, travelling on the upper deck of a bus or in the car. It seems to have an elegant simplicity – grand but manageably so, much as I imagine an oriental or Roman bathhouse might have been. Perhaps this is further emphasised by the use of red brick in its construction and its position sitting on top of an hill – a rarity in this part of London. The number of friends and acquaintances familiar with the station also surprises me; they seem to remember it with great affection and a warm smile.
I was lent a book by one of them, ‘Trolley Buses in London’s Docklands’, and I discovered that Plaistow Station was opened in 1858. Looking at photos taken during the fifties you can see that its frontage within the triple arches was home to Finlay’s Newsagents. On the roof of the building there used to be a balustrade made of concrete squares that contained decorative circles. These must have been demolished sometime after 1959, perhaps for reasons of safety. In the old photo the PLAISTOW sign seems over large, unbalancing the design of the frontage and I think I much prefer today’s signage, between the two arched doors at either end of the building.
I became most familiar with the station when I undertook a Master’s Degree at my local university in East London. I would often pass it travelling on the college bus that went between the docks and Stratford. As I routinely passed my interest increased, encouraged by the ambiance of this place. One also has to take in another view of another edifice, dominating the local skyline from this station’s position… Canary Wharf.
I visited the site a number of times to familiarise myself and following one particular visit, I decided I wanted to set the composition as a scene in winter. The temperament of that season seemed to envelop and enhance the building as a piece of theatre. I became well aware too, of the need for participants, the place being a busy terminus even during the quieter times of a winter’s day.
Right from my early painting days, as in ‘Bus Stop in Mile End’ 1983, I have always enjoyed speculating about people waiting for public transport, their lives suspended in space for a short time between action and thought. These days some of that magic has been lost. Digital devices seem to promote isolation of the individual shielded from strangers, tending to restrict chance meetings… or even glances between one another. Building on this, I realised as I was painting that each participant turns away from those distant towers and all have their backs turned, against the financial district. Maybe this was an oversight at first… or maybe it was subconscious, I really don’t know… although once realised, this idea became a focal point for me in completing the painting.
Doreen Fletcher 2020
Sunday Afternoon, Plaistow Station 2020 oil on canvas 58 x 79cm (23 x 31”) unframed