We spoke to artist Marc Gooderham on the nostalgia of our favourite East End haunts, and what makes a place worth painting.
There’s almost an eerie quality to Marc Gooderham’s empty scenes; it’s as if his work foreshadowed the lockdown. But really, despite their absence, people are at the heart of his paintings.
‘When we had that first lockdown, I did have people saying to me, this is like your paintings. There’s nobody around. It’s almost like the paintings I’d done became a visual reality of lockdown,’ reminisces Gooderham.
Being an artist during the last 12 months has been a strange one for Gooderham. In some ways his solitary life painting in his studio hasn’t changed, but in others it has dramatically altered. Gone are the days of gallery exhibitions or networking with potential buyers over a glass of wine.
The Artists Support Pledge, set up by artist Matthew Burrows, became a ‘life-line’ for painters like Gooderham. The campaign, which asked artists to sell works for £200 then on their fifth sale to use the money earnt to purchase another artist’s work, completely snowballed and led to more commissions.
‘So among all the bleakness, in my own little world, I was actually quite productive.’
Whereas before the pandemic, Gooderham was more guided by his own artistic intuition, this year he has had the time to better indulge the wishes of his customers.
‘Nostalgia has set in, and people are obviously pining for family members, but also places,’ he explains. ‘I think places are just as important in your own world; your daily routine of going to get a coffee from the cafe, or having a pint pulled by that person at your local.’
‘Those little daily occurrences that were incidental before, I think that interaction is actually quite prominent… we used to really take it for granted… now people are desperate just to go and sit down and order a coffee. Those are the sorts of places I’ve been painting.’
The Palm Tree pub, one of Gooderham’s most popular commissions, prompted an out-pouring of love. After posting a photo of the painting on Instagram, he received comments and messages posted by people from all walks of life – sparking a debate over whether credit cards were accepted.
But what united them was their attachment to this building; ‘they absolutely love it, it’s theirs, and they really miss it.’
‘It was great that I could paint a piece for someone that was really personal, and that loads of other people could enjoy it too,’ he continued.
The Bethnal Green gas holders are a particularly favourite subject of Gooderham, and there’s a reason why he keeps revisiting these Marmite-esque landmarks. A blight on the sky-line for some, free art installations to others, he is enamoured with their reflections on the canal and light streaming through their bare bones.
As many East Enders will attest, these Victorian structures resonate deeply. They’ve been there on our canal-side daily walks, quick march to work, weary journey home, jogs and dog walks.
‘When the light shines through the gas holders by the canal, that’s part of people’s lives.’
Back in September, planning permission was granted to build luxury apartments on the land currently hosting these stark Victorian structures, news that Gooderham laments passionately.
‘To just see that as an opportunity to build flats, or remove them… I think: “but that’s part of the fabric of the landscape of East London.” And it looks nice, and I don’t understand why parts of London can’t just be left to be appreciated for how they look.’
One of the remaining structures dates to back 1865, but all will be demolished to make way for 55 new homes in buildings ranging from from six to 13 storeys.
Gooderham has lived all over London, and while he currently resides in leafy Brockley, South of the river, he spent three years living on Brick Lane. After that, it was ten years in Hackney, so he often finds himself back in the area, painting, to satiate his own nostalgia.
‘That was at the end of the nineties though, it was a different place then,” he reminisces. “It had started to – it had already – changed, gentrification had definitely started to set in, but Redchurch Street was not what it is today. There was maybe one little bar that had opened when I lived there.’
Gooderham sees his art as working to document the old London that seems to be changing beyond our control. And every shop corner, or knackered old pub is included, because all of these places mean something special to a lot of people.
‘It might just be an old off-licence with it’s shutters down, but if I can make that look like it’s worthy of a painting, somehow…
That’s part of the challenge. I think: “How can I make that street corner sing?”’
If you would like to commission Marc Gooderham to paint your favourite place, or buy a limited edition print, you can contact him via his website: www.marcgooderham.co.uk
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