Saturday, January 10th 2015
Today the weather was cold but there was a low winter sun that sometimes cast an enchanting light on the scene… and just as easily dazzled you when you tried to take a photo towards the light. We breakfasted at home for once and later took a bus to Shoreditch where we wandered more or less at random, taking photos as we went. The backstreets were quiet. Now given over mainly to offices, the buildings were shut up for the weekend and there were few people about.
These backstreets were probably once lined with warehouses and workshops but now these have been transformed into apartment blocks and offices.
No matter what the buildings are used for, any blank piece of wall is likely to attract street artists and to provide a canvas for their creations.
An old factory chimney still towers over you as you walk down Jerome Street but I suspect it no longer produces smoke, though I don’t know what company it belongs to.
Jerome Street leads back to a main thoroughfare called Commercial Street from where there is a view of the landmark spire of Christ Church Spitalfields which punctuates the skyline in most views around the area.
We entered Brick Lane and walked along it, looking for lunch. Brick Lane is famous for its Indian restaurants though “Indian” isn’t exactly the right adjective as Bangladeshi cuisine predominates. Brick Lane restaurant owners became notorious for accosting passers-by and trying to induce them to dine in their establishments. This is supposed now to be illegal and restaurants found guilty of the offence can be fined. This has apparently not eliminated the problem and we were accosted several times.
Shoreditch is also famous for its street art and the blue figure pictured above – an idealized Native American? – recurs often. I don’t know the name of the artist. (Update: The artist creator of the blue Indians is Cranio.)
There seem to be two communities at work here, street artists worthy of the name and graffiti artists or taggers. Street art tends to be ephemeral because paintings have a finite lifespan. They may be overlaid by later paintings or removed by the local council. Sometimes the building that provides the canvas is knocked down. Paintings can also be defaced by graffiti and tags, in some ways the worst fate that can befall them.
Fed up with avoiding touts for Indian restaurants, we plumped for Damascu Bite, a chain that serves “Middle Eastern” cuisine. More specifically, I was seduced by one menu item in particular – couscous. This is one of my favourites and I had not had any for quite a while. We also had some grilled haloumi.
Here is a panoramic view of the interior of the restaurant from our table. (Click on the image to see a larger version.) I had been having problems with the camera’s panorama function making pictures look blue. I eventually discovered that the reason was that it had somehow become set for artificial light. Once I corrected that, things returned to normal.
There were a number of wall paintings in Cheshire Street, too many to photograph and publish them all. (Something that is true of most of the streets in the area.) Street artists have to use whatever surface is available, however unfriendly this might seem. Extraneous objects (extraneous to the subject of the painting, that is) have to be incorporated and either disguised or used in some clever way. The painting on the left has included an unpromising gas meter but seems to have managed to include it in the design. Pictures of people often look as if they have been taken from life and the portrait on the right is an example of this.
We entered Grimsby Street again. It is lined from end to end with wall paintings. This colourful creation exemplifies a problem one encounters with photographing street art: paintings are often very large but may be situated in narrow streets. This means that it may be impossible to photograph the painting from the front as one would like and necessary to photograph it at an angle, producing distortion.
The notice on the card reads “THE ALL WORLD IS GOING BAZERK AND ALL YOU CAN SAY IS” followed by an arrowhead that may be intended to point at the painting. (Spelling and syntax is per the original.)
This painting seems to show two people having an angry exchange, shouting at one another. I believe it is by Stik whose figures are immediately recognizable as his. Unable to avoid the doorway, the artist has made a “feature” of it and included it in the design.
Not all wall art is on a large scale. Some is small and can be very small indeed. Nor does is necessarily consist only of painting. There are constructed items and mixed media. This art is sited high on the side of a building and I don’t know whether some pieces go together or whether they are all independent. The most interesting items are a construction that looks like a bird nesting box and a tape cassette with the tape pulled out and arranged to form the word PAUSE.
Town planners have a problems finding names for streets. Many are anodyne, using the names of famous people from history, place names, etc. but just occasionally one comes across a name that hints at the history of the place. An example appears above, in the picturesquely named Hare Marsh. I have no doubt that this area was once a marsh and that hares – a valuable food resource – abounded. The marsh has been drained and the hares are long gone but the name lives on.
Cheshire Street is a long almost straight street of fairly nondescript buildings (some of which no doubt have a history behind them, though) with at least one interesting inhabitant.
I refer to the Cheshire Street Baths, dated 1899, the first to be built under Queen Victoria’s Baths and Washhouses Act. Simple but pleasing in design, especially when lit by gentle winter sunshine, this Grade II listed building no longer serves its original purposes but today accommodates apartments and a boxing club.
As was expected in the Victorian era, the baths had separate entrances for men and for women. A relief above each door shows which is which. Apart from the words “womens” and “mens”, respectively, the panels are the same. (If you wonder where the apostrophes have gone, I suspect they are intended to be incorporated in the curlicues on the letters.)
Around the side of the building is a smaller door, perhaps originally intended for staff and deliveries. Either side of the door is a sculpted angel. The one on the left (pictured above) looks as though it is the original whereas the other one seems to have been remodelled in cement. Perhaps the angels signify the idea that “cleanliness is next to godliness”.
Our last visit of the trip was to the Church of St Matthew Bethnal Green. It is pleasantly sited in an open green space which was once the graveyard but has now been cleared and made into a garden. The foundation stone of the original church was laid in 1743 but this building was severely damaged in Second World War bombing and the restored church reconsecrated in 1961. We would have taken a look inside but the doors were locked. I do not criticise the church managers for this as I know any property not actively guarded is at risk from theft.
The cold was not making itself felt so we made our way back to the main road to catch a bus home but it will not be long before we visit Shoreditch with its continually evolving art scene again.