This post is the first in a series of nine about the exhibition Town House Spitalfields in Lockdown and there’s a link at the end to the video of the whole exhibition:-
Town House shut its doors on 20th March 2020. The lockdown started the following week and I have visited weekly just to keep an eye on things, to water the plants in the courtyard and once to make the window look a bit more spring like just in case there was anyone passing by.
Already that seems a long while ago. At first, I found it unbearably sad walking through the door: I hadn’t realised just how much I’ve got used to the buzz of people coming and going and to hearing their chatter as they walk round the shop.
And that was one of the two things I missed overwhelmingly when the lockdown started: the people who visit Town House and talk about their ancestors, the East End and their memories of it and the second thing I missed was the paintings themselves. I’ve found that lockdown has altered the way I look at some things, so I decided to hang some East End paintings in the gallery here and have a look at them all side by side to see.
The first one I hung in this lockdown exhibition was an obvious one: Old Houses Bethnal Green (1929), by Walter Steggles of the East London Group. It’s a tiny painting, much smaller compared to other works by the Group; there’s also less sky and it’s much darker in tone. The whole thing feels cramped and claustrophobic somehow, reflecting the houses it was depicting perhaps, and all emphasised by the size of that frame closing it in. There are no people, but you know they’re there: there’s washing hanging on the line, some junk piled up by a back door. We can sense the lives that the people who live here lead, even though we can’t see them. There’s something fascinating about paintings of the backs of houses, the artist may just be painting the buildings, but we all love to look for what might really be going on behind those closed doors.