Doreen Fletcher, A Retrospective

Doreen Fletcher painted the streets of East London until she gave up painting in 2004, discouraged by the lack of interest and recognition. In 2015 a chance encounter with The Gentle Author – writer, blogger and publisher – of Spitalfields Life, resulted in her paintings being brought to a new public, largely via social media.  I first saw some of her work in the exhibition Henry Silk and the East End Vernacular at Abbott & Holder in 2018. A few of her paintings, not for sale, hung in the second ‘Other artists’ room and I blogged about them, admiring their Edward Hopper like quality, their similarity to the American in subject matter, in vibrant colours, unusual viewpoints and the rendering of people, small and anonymous, but never insignificant, within the built environment.

Last night saw the launch of Doreen Fletcher, A Retrospective at the Nunnery Gallery, Bow Road and we went along. We arrived at six when the doors opened, but by a quarter to seven it was impossible to move. The show had featured in BBC Online and The Guardian and was ‘exhibition of the week’ in The New Statesman so a lot of interest had been generated. Tremendous for the artist, who is finally getting the recognition she deserves, but less so for the viewer. Nonetheless I was able to catch a quick word with The Gentle Author, though not with Doreen herself.

The Nunnery Gallery is housed in a nineteenth century former convent and has two viewing rooms and a bar and the paintings were in all of them, though it grew increasingly difficult to move from one to another and we finally gave up.  We will go back, because the paintings deserve greater concentration and contemplation than we were able to give them yesterday.

The art is representational, a faithful depiction of place. She says ‘My concern as an artist is with the pockets of life we ignore’ and she is a painter of the ‘almost gone’. So this exhibition is, amongst other things, a social document of a lost place and time and way of life.

The scenes are often flat, a shop  or cafe front, head on to the viewer with strong horizontals ( I never realised just how many East End streets had pavement railings until seeing Fletcher’s paintings ). She shows the pattern and colour within these flat frontages – Pubali Cafe, Limehouse (1996) with its pinks and blues and Pepsi signs; VIP Garage, Commercial Road (2001) with that green which is rarely found in nature but is often a feature of urban, painted environments; the Launderette, Ben Jonson Road (2003) with its grid of metal shutters and metallic signs.  These are depictions of real places and are perfectly realised paintings.

I particularly like the paintings which have interesting perspectives, the corner of roads, like The Lino Shop, Poplar (2003), Ragged School Museum, Stepney (2017) and Fried Chicken Shop, Silvertown (2017).  Salmon Road in the Rain (1987) is a favourite of mine, with its blue sky after rain and the reflections in a road still wet.  Bartlett Park, Poplar (1990) is a depiction of a road junction and subject matter doesn’t get more quotidian than that, as the road leads the viewer off to the block of maisonettes passed the one brick building and its bill-boards and smoking chimney.

Fletcher is also interested in light, so many pictures are set at dusk or night time and with unusual viewpoints, from under a railway or canal bridge, rather like some of the viewpoints used by the Impressionists when they painted the urban environment. The good news is that she is painting again and some of her later works are included in this show.

I can thoroughly recommend this exhibition. Go, it’s free, runs until 24th March  and the Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday and, because I always like to end with a book, how about Doreen Fletcher, Paintings (2018, Spitalfields Life Books ).  Some of the images in this blog are taken therefrom and do not do justice to either the paintings or the quality of their printed reproductions.

For more articles about art and exhibitions on The Story Bazaar see   Art on the Underground         Walking Burne Jones            Frida Kahlo


To cheat (verb trans)  To deceive by trickery; swindle: to mislead; fool: to elude. To act dishonestly; practice fraud;tviolate rules deliberately.

I, like many, am gripped by the drama that is unfolding at Westminster .  As someone who watches the Parliamentary Channel every so often, it’s good to know that I am no longer alone, others are tuning in too. Yet I suspect that many more are not, they just want it over.

One of the problems for me with watching events like this is the anger which attends it.  I find myself waking up at night, furious.  This was something a friend said to me a year or more ago and I sympathised, but didn’t quite understand. Now I do.  So where does that anger come from?

Is it, as Brexit supporters would have it, because I am unused to losing and being powerless?  Or because I cannot accept what living in a democracy means if ‘my side’ doesn’t win?

Having lived through the Thatcher years, when decisions which were bad for the country but good for Tory party elect-ability were taken again and again (encouraging people to buy their council houses at knock-down prices without building replacements, the selling off of prime utilities ) I don’t think that’s the case.  I remember powerlessness, when a split opposition allowed ten years and more of Thatcher or Thatcherite rule and the huge bonuses from North Sea oil were squandered in tax cuts and benefits payments.  And I was angry, but it didn’t invade my life like it does now.

Is it because I have immediate ‘skin in the game’ a horrible phrase?  As someone who has to operate in Euros as well as sterling, Brexit has already hit my pocket in a way it hasn’t yet for many ( though it will ).

No, that might make me a little angry, but it doesn’t account for this deep fury, a dissonance at my core. I think that is where the answer lies .  I am having trouble accepting what is happening because it runs counter to everything I have been brought up to believe.

That cheating is wrong.

That winning by cheating isn’t winning and that the rules won’t let it stand.

Ben Johnson may have won the Olympic hundred metres while doping, but he didn’t get to  keep the medal.  Lance Armstrong may have ruled the Tour de France (and ruined the careers of those who wouldn’t dope or support doping) but eventually he was found our and disgraced. Shirley Porter jerry-mandered a local election* but had to flee to Israel before making reparation.

Now, I am not the young child who cries ‘But it isn’t fair!’  I know that life isn’t fair. Nor am I the food bank user, or the woman juggling two zero hours jobs with childcare. There are many who are much worse off than me and who could, rightly, consider that they, personally, had been treated unfairly (the claimants of disability allowance who are denied because the operatives of the privatised system are told they must discourage claims, for instance, or the Universal Credit claimant told she has to wait six weeks for payment of money due to her, so she cannot feed her children).

But I also believe that people, generally, believe in fairness and justice.  If we lose that belief it will leave everyone the poorer and the UK a mean and bitter place. In another conversation, with a leaver friend, I was asked, but if there was so much law breaking and wrong doing why hasn’t something been done about it?  For her – someone who has the same value system as me –  the lack of accountability demonstrated that there wasn’t really anything major wrong.

I guess the sad truth is that people who might do something about this stand to gain more by not applying basic laws and rules than by applying them ( and I include disaster socialists here as well as disaster capitalists ).  The Referendum was advisory, so its result is not binding.  Electoral law was broken (a 10% overspend and funding from unknown sources), which would, were this a properly binding election, mean that the result would be set aside.  People like Gina Miller and Jolyon Maugham try, but the powerful continue regardless.

This is why I am angry.

I still believe that eventually those in charge, as well as the cheats, charlatans and liars, will be brought to account.  But by then the damage may well have been done.

*The now infamous ‘homes for votes’ scandal.

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I’ll be blogging here occasionally about things which interest me.  Places of interest, topical subjects ( and rants ), reviews of plays, books and exhibitions in London and elsewhere.

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