‘In times like these, I don’t know how artists live’: the Mile End painter on standing up for artists’ rights and capturing East London’s independent spirit.
Naomi Bailey, a painter from Mile End, has always loved scribbling. One of Bailey’s earliest memories is of her art teacher saying ‘If you try and make something perfect, it’ll only appear soulless’.
That childhood spirit of unbridled creativity is still evident in Bailey’s paintings of East London, which she produces under the pseudonym Wanderrover from her home near e5 Poplar Bakehouse.
Bailey, 30, grew up in Guildford, Surrey, before studying architecture at the University of Sheffield in 2012. She moved to East London in 2016 and set up the Instagram Wanderrover soon after, but it wasn’t until the lockdown in March 2020 that her art account took off in full swing.
Wanderrover combines the words ‘wander’ and ‘rover’, and means ‘to search and to look around’, Bailey tells me. When said out loud, the pseudonym also sounds like the affectionate suggestion by another to ‘wander over here’.
Playful scribbles and paint splatters characterise Bailey’s method of illustrating Tower Hamlets. From the leafy wilderness of Victoria Park to the turquoise depths of the Regent’s Canal, Bailey’s cityscapes capture the ever-changing East End.
‘Cityscapes’ was Bailey’s first series of paintings, including prints entitled ‘East London’, ‘Hackney Wick’, ‘London Fields’ and ‘Mile End’.
The paintings balance a sweeping, panoramic gaze of East London, with minute attention to detail. In ‘Hackney Wick’, busy pedestrians are dwarfed by the rouge majesty of the Orbit Tower in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. To the left-hand side of the print, Bailey depicts the wacky mural on Wallis Road by street artist Thierry Noir.
‘East London is always full of life, especially around Hackney Wick. I think the area’s so special with its independent shops, and the graffiti everywhere makes the place inspiring and fun.’
While Bailey enjoys London’s atmosphere of creative enterprise, she is painfully aware of the lack of funding for artists.
Wanderrover has successfully gathered over 5,000 followers, but Bailey’s livelihood doesn’t solely depend on selling her £50 cityscape prints. When she isn’t painting, Bailey is a freelance art director and has worked on various films including Rebecca (2020) and Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022).
‘When I talk to people with art as their only job, some part of me thinks: “How are you living in London?”’
‘In times like these, I don’t know how artists live. I know so many people who want to work in studios, but there are all these costs, from framing your art to finding a place to exhibit it.’
Nearly a third of London’s visual artists said a lack of funds might force them out of the industry in five years, and only 12% can support themselves through art, a survey in July 2023 revealed.
‘Now that rent is way over a grand for the majority of people, I just feel like it’s killing this generation of artists’, Bailey said.
Following the cuts by Arts Council England in November 2022, the role of the community in sustaining local creativity has become all the more vital.
Fortunately, there is a culture in East London of local businesses supporting the careers of independent artists. Bailey said:
‘The framing shop We Are Frmd in Clapton is really great for framing, but also always displays the work of independent artists in spontaneous exhibitions.’
‘Approach Tavern in Bethnal Green have shows on the first floor of their pub for artists at the start of their careers. I love going to these.’
Workshop 353 on the Roman Road is another small business helping local artists. The shop offers printing and custom-made framing but also functions as a gallery, exhibiting the work of up-and-coming artists like Jack Hines and Alice Colombo.
Similarly, Bailey hopes her art will help vulnerable East End businesses: ‘I know more and more independent places are struggling. I would love to try and find the places that aren’t doing so well, and use art to promote or save them.’
East London’s independent pubs feature repeatedly in Bailey’s work. With 383 pubs across England and Wales being forced to close between January and June 2023, these historic drinking venues could do with Bailey’s help.
By representing her favourite pubs on Wanderrover, Bailey encourages a new generation to visit these legendary drinking venues. The Palm Tree, The Kenton Arms, The Morgan Arms, and The People’s Park Tavern all appear in Bailey’s work.
‘When you stumble across those old boozers where the local community still visit every Friday and Saturday, I find them really inspiring’, said Bailey.
‘The pubs around here are fantastic. I love The Palm Tree. Every Friday and Saturday, they have these guys that have been around for years, and they always play jazz.’
The Palm Tree was built in 1935 and survived the severe bombings of the Blitz. In her print, Bailey adds vibrant light to its aged walls, making the Mile End building burst with life. As she paints the historical architecture of our area, Bailey prevents our integral institutions from disappearing.
The independent spirit of East London is clearly under threat, but artists like Bailey use paint and ink to fight for its survival. With characteristic East End camaraderie, our local businesses and artists are pooling resources to keep our culture alive.
To browse Bailey’s East London prints, visit her website.
For more on local artists, read Jock McFadyen: the ever-changing East End.
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