15 September – 10 October
A roomful of paintings in Stephen Harwood’s distinctive style, straddling real life and dream (or is it nightmare?) Where the exact depiction, the clarity of the strokes, pulls us towards a sense of something missing. Maybe here and there the turbulence of the skies should be a clue. Look again.
These are views of the East End, just round the corner; but not ones we’ll necessarily recognise. A faceless terrace that used to be quite famous, the abandoned site of terrible industrial disease and struggle. You’d never know by looking.
Graffiti’d walls, padlocked gates, paths to who knows where. And messages everywhere, spelled-out calls to action, warnings, or secret codes we can take as misguided decoration of the public space, or the worst sort of criminal effrontery.
These are places we walk past and ignore with the only sign of life the upper stories of a distant tower block. Also faceless. In another world, green spaces, also unpeopled. And in the third of these worlds, left to our imagination, whatever it is that will replace every one of these solitudes, in days to come.
We’re used to seeing it in photographs, a modest part of the heritage industry: this is the way it was, grainy photos of unrecognisable streets with familiar names. Piccadilly Circus, garishly publicising forgotten soft drinks. ’Euston Arch (demolished)’.
Stephen Harwood is giving us something different. In a series of paintings made over the last few years, he offers us views of streets, buildings, walls, in this section of the East End. They mean nothing. Their importance is their insignificance. They matter because they will disappear. If edgelands have been defined as ‘the interfacial interzone between urban and rural’, these are the interface between today and tomorrow, decay and gentrification, neglect and profit. One day all these will be gated communities.
We’re used to seeing graffiti, watching it erase and evolve but we are now besieged by ‘street art’ carefully ‘curated’ and dutifully preserved. So-called re-generation has ossified real change. The beating heart has stopped. The paint has dried.
“… la forme d’une ville
Change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d’un mortel”
‘Le Cygne’ Charles Baudelaire
Studio 1.1 London
57a Redchurch Street E2 7DJ