Thursday, 26 June 2008

The bard's bar

Somehow, post children, I haven't got to the Shakespeare in Stoke Newington as much as I once did, and instead seem to find myself passing it with a small daughter in tow on my way back from dance or "movement" class, going at such a slow pace that I have time to look through its windows and remember the times I would go there with my late, great brother Dave and listen to its incomparable (then, at least, and perhaps even now) jukebox, sup dark beer that somehow has a way of tasting better because there is no carpet on the floor (I don't know how this works but it is a theory that demands further investigation), and wait for the toppling of the Tory government to gladden our hearts further.

I spend some windswept mornings drawing it from a variety of angles at a time when it is shut and therefore impossible to take refuge in. The drawing is for some friends who have left London for the country, friends who evidently managed to spend more time there than we have, building up the kind of long and enduring relationship with it in a way that calls for a print of its exterior to be hanging on their wall. And the walls of their friends. As they are from the acting and theatrical fields, it's a more than suitable pub for them.

And anyone else who goes in it.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

At the Printroom

Hampstead isn't so very far away from where we live — it's only about seven or eight stops on the overground line running west from our lovely grubby corner of north-east London — but in many ways it is a world away. Think of London in terms of lots of villages or towns crushed together so that the green lungs of rural landscape have more or less been squeezed out. Hampstead is closer to us than it should be. It's unmistakably London, it's unmistakably north London, and yet it throbs with a different beat to the one rattling our Stoke Newington windows.

But I came across a gallery there, Printroom, that, I thought, my work could fit into well. The owner and director thought so too, if I could come up with some local scenes that people were keen on. So I spent the day there, wandering through its quiet little backstreets, filling a sketchbook. There probably are pockets of poverty and deprivation in Hampstead, but I haven't come across them, either then or during the previous 20-odd years I've known it.

It proved continually surprising, however, and I found places I never knew existed. It's the kind of place where cats come brushing around your legs as you draw, where there are milk bottles on doorsteps and au pairs wander down to the cafe with their buggies and iPods. It's also the kind of place where locals go into galleries and ask for local scenes they can hang on their wall, and that's where I wanted to come in. But the working process is different to just turning up in a place and drawing what I want to draw, as I usually do — here, I am aiming to capture what people who live there may want to have on display, and that's not the same at all.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I leave a couple of prints in the gallery, one of the car-lined Church Row (shown top), which for some reason strikes me as much like Boston as London, and the other of Flask Walk (above), a quiet alley with a pub and independent shops. It's too early to say how things are going — they've barely gone on the gallery walls — so we'll just have to wait and see.