This September, the East London Group returns to the Nunnery Gallery with a new collection of paintings, selected and curated by writer broadcaster Michael Rosen and radio producer film-maker Emma-Louise Williams. With a focus on Albert Turpin, who, as window cleaner, fireman, Mayor of Bethnal Green and leading member of the anti-fascist movement, was the ultimate ‘working artist’, three new public works of art, commissioned to commemorate the Group, will also be unveiled alongside the show from Lindsey Mendick, Marcus Orlandi and Maxima Smith.
Working during the inter-war period, the East London Group of artists were made up of ordinary working men and women, attending art classes – Walter Sickert was among their teachers – and exhibiting their paintings alongside their day jobs. There were thirty-five members and the exhibition will include works by William Coldstream, Elwin Hawthorne, Brynhild Parker, Harold Steggles, Walter Steggles and Albert Turpin.
Rosen and Williams have selected over 50 works for exhibition, with a special focus on little-known works by Albert Turpin. Turpin was not only a critically acclaimed artist but a prominent figure in local politics, as a leading force in the East End anti-fascist movement and Mayor of Bethnal Green. His works tell the story of the East End’s resilience through a turbulent time of war and peace and will be shown alongside sketchbooks and political pamphlets that haven’t been seen for 70 years, providing a vivid and contextual narrative to the paintings.
The new public artworks will be installed on Bow and Mile End Road, visible to passers-by throughout the exhibition; Mendick will commemorate a new park bench in the Group’s memory, installed at the iconic Bow Church and embedded with miniature ceramics that symbolise the views of then and now. Orlandi – known for his politically engaged work – will explore the parallels between Turpin’s fight against the extremist views of the 30s and our own generation’s struggle with terror, while Smith’s new film subtly remembers Turpin’s day job of a window cleaner, by filming the mesmerising lines of contemporary East End window washers at work. Walking tours of the local area will guide visitors around these new public artworks, finishing at Queen Mary University of London – who have supported the new commissions – where remnants of a mural painting by East London Group member Phyllis Bray can still be seen in the People’s Palace.
The patronage provided by the East London Group’s famed supporters – Sir Joseph Duveen, Samuel Courtauld and Arnold Bennett to name a few – led them to great heights, with their achievements contextualised in the press by the artists’ means of earning a living, a “window-cleaner”, “shop assistant” and “pipe inspector”. This exhibition, with its wealth of previously un-exhibited material, sheds new light on many of the characters of the group, who were accomplished artists – lauded by the art world – but also active war artists, heroes of east London politics and avid chroniclers of the changing face of the London of their time.
The exhibition soundscape “Excuse me, are you looking for ghosts?” (2017) by Emma-Louise Williams accompanies the exhibition. Studio engineer Jon Calver. With thanks to the London Sound Survey.
If you are in Southampton, please do visit From Mile End to Mayfair, a sister East London Group exhibition presenting iconic East London Group works alongside artists from Southampton City Art Gallery's collection until 6 January 2018.
About the curators
Michael Rosen is an award-winning writer, performance poet and broadcaster. He is a former Children’s Laureate, Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London and presents BBC Radio 4’s acclaimed programme about language, Word of Mouth. For BBC World Service Michael has presented several programmes about art and architecture, including programmes on LeCorbusier, Anthony Caro, David Nash and Paul Gaugin.
In his work with children, he has been commissioned by The Barbican, Tate Britain, Tate Modern,The Ashmolean Museum and National Portrait Gallery to lead writing workshops inspired by artworks. In 2010 Michael presented a symposium on Picasso's "Guernica" at the Whitechapel Gallery, in conjunction with artist Goshka Macuga's exhibition "The Nature of the Beast".
His most recent book, So They Call You Pisher! (Verso) includes an account of his family’s East End lives.
Emma-Louise Williams is a radio producer and film-maker. Her radio work is commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and Radio 3. Eye Hopes looked down on the city from the London Eye expressing people’s hopes and aspirations. In A Place for Us, she presented the voices of unaccompanied asylum-seeking teenagers in East Ham. Crossing the Border explored the relationship between poetry and film. A Story I Am In told how Jamaican British poet, James Berry came to London and spent his life reflecting on migration and identity. Forthcoming is The American Art Tapes, a unique airing of interviews, held in an archive at the Tate, with top American-based artists recorded in the 1960s, including Louise Bourgeois, Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg.
In 2011 she made a filmpoem, Under the Cranes (56 mins) “A polyphonic meditation on time and urban space - a joyous wonder, an instant addition to the modern canon of filmic London ” Sukhdev Sandhu, BFI. This is a painterly evocation of the changing face of Hackney, charting migration and regeneration in a critical way. It juxtaposes works by Leon Kossoff, Jock McFadyen and James Mackinnon with filmic portraits of streets, flats, houses and factories.
The Working Artist was put together with support from the Arts Council Collection, Blackburn Museum & Gallery, Bolton Library & Museum, Doncaster Museum & Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, St. Anne’s College, Oxford, Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives and Queen Mary University of London. With thanks to Dave Arscott, David Buckman, Elwin John Hawthorne, Michael Needham, Walter Steggles Bequest, Michael Rosen, Gabriel Summers, the A. E. Turpin family estate, Alan Waltham, Emma-Louise Williams, Brian Andrew Worthington and all anonymous supporters.
Images: Albert Turpin, courtesy the artist’s family © A.E.Turpin Estate, 2017