Sunday, January 11th 2015
Today being Sunday, we breakfasted as usual in Pret and then, as usual, dragged the shopping trolley to Sainsbury’s to do the week’s shopping. We returned home and, as usual, rested from our labours until faint stirrings of restlessness suggested that we ought to go out. But where to?
This is where we came first, to Belsize Park. It is tempting, though a little unfair, to describe Belsize Park as Hampstead’s shy cousin. Everyone knows Hampstead but fewer know Belsize Park which is reached by travelling down Haverstock Hill from Hampstead or up the hill from Camden Town. It is quieter and more discreet than Hampstead and some might prefer it for that reason.
Time was when Hampstead had a borough of its own – called, appropriately, the Metropolitan Borough of Hampstead – but in 1965 a major reorganization of London’s boroughs took place and Hampstead found itself included in the newly created London Borough of Camden. This was deeply resented by some who felt that Camden, personified by Camden Town, is down the hill from Hampstead both physically and metaphorically. In Metropolitan Borough days, Hampstead had its own town hall on Haverstock Hill. It was completed in 1877-8 and is today a Grade II listed building because of its architectural and historical interest. For a while after 1965, the Old Town Hall continued to fulfil a role in Council business but has now been taken over by an organization called Wac Arts (“Empowering young people to change their world”). The Old Town Hall has appeared in a number of films, usually as the venue for a registry wedding.
We rambled down Haverstock Hill and turned into England’s Lane. One nameplate has an apostrophe (“England’s”) and the other doesn’t (“Englands”) but a helpful citizen has added one, though it is a little pale. On the corner of England’s Lane with Primrose Gardens stands Allchin’s Pharmacy. Despite new signage above the windows, the exterior of the shop remains much as it was originally built. But when was that?
Despite my interest in this establishment, I have not been able to find out anything about it, historically speaking. I can only guess that it dates from the 19th or early 20th century and was set up by one Alfred Allchin. I also note that the name Allchin frequently occurs in connection with pharmacy. We were intrigued by the black-on-gold lettering reading “MEMBERS SOCIETY” (no apostrophe) on the window. What benefits did membership of the pharmacy’s society confer, I wonder? Allchin Pharmacy definitely invites further research.
On the corner of England’s Lane with Primrose Hill Road stands the Washington. This substantial establishment is a typical mid-Victorian (c. 1865) pub. The heavy layers of paint do it no favours but, all being well, will have preserved the surface until the day comes when a more sensitive restoration takes place. Until then, let us hope its Grade II listing protects it. It was of course named in honour of America’s first President, George Washington, and a head and shoulders portrait of the latter appears in the upper arch above the door.
We now headed towards Camden Town but as we were wandering more or less at random, we were unaware of what we were about to find.
We somehow found ourselves in the circle formed by Castlehaven Road, Hawley Road and Leybourne Road. The first thing that caught my attention was a painting that covered the whole façade of a house – see above.
I then realized that it wasn’t just an isolated painting: all the buildings in the row had been painted! (Click to see a larger view of the above.)
Some, like this one, were being painted as we watched. Street art tends to be a surreptitious activity except in those areas where it is tolerated so I asked one of the artists whether street art was indeed tolerated here. He explained that all the buildings in the area were about to be demolished and that in the interim, the artists were free to indulge themselves.
I don’t know how long the buildings have been empty and I think some of the paintings have been here for some time but with only a few days to go before demolition starts, it seems strange that artists are even now creating new works which will soon become inaccessible and then be destroyed. Hence my title, Ephemeral art. I suppose, though, that it is no different in that respect from other short-lived art forms such as ice sculpture or sand sculpture.
The railway crosses over the circle where painting was taking place and underneath and around the railway arches we found a whole impromptu gallery of art works. (Click to see a larger view.)
Much of street art is figurative, though there are abstract works as well, but the figurative ones are often heavily charged with objects and details that suggest a complex symbolism. The meanings are not immediately to the observer and one would need to hear an explanation from the artist (or make one up for oneself!).
Many street paintings are anonymous in the sense that they are not signed and the casual observer therefore doesn’t know who the artist is. (Street artists themselves form a community and no doubt recognize one another’s work from the style.) This lifelike painting of a rat is signed. It is by a pair of artists working under the names of Boe and Irony who specialize in huge paintings of animals, “huge” in the sense of sometimes occupying the whole height of a tower block. It’s nice to be able to credit the artists when I can do so.
Some items of artist’s materials lie on the ground in front of this painting of a face as though the artist has just stepped aside for a moment and will shortly return to continue the work.
Some figures recur frequently and the blue man above is an example. All the paintings are similar but each is unique and expresses its own theme. This one is waving a McDonalds burger and an be contrasted with, for example, “Text back, bitch” in Spitalfields. (Update: The artist creator of the blue Indians is Cranio.)
We saw two paintings by this artist (unknown to me, alas), one of whose characteristics is the appearance in the paintings of large and very realistic water drops.
Nosing around in a yard piled with junk among which were some interesting objects, we came across this broken structure. It seems to be a representation of a workshop or something similar. At first sight, you might think it has been cast in bronze but a look at the broken part reveals that it is really made of fibreglass emulating bronze. One can only speculate as to the original use of this complex work.
As we continued along Leybourne Road, the paintings became fewer but where they appeared they showed the same variety and imagination as elsewhere. Work like this, using spray cans betoken highly developed skills, physical as well as artistic.
Parked cars and street furniture preventing me taking a face-on photo of this painting and I had to view it from an angle. Painting on brickwork must present challenges of its own but the artist has surmounted them in the lively picture of a red crested crane taking off.
At the end of Leybourne Road where it meets Castlehaven Road, is this large and detailed painting. The main figure, in green, is holding a spray can out of which emerges cloud of mauve paint. On the can are the words “Lost Souls”, the signature of the team of artists who created this and other artworks.
I have of course not been able to photograph all the paintings in the circuit because there are just too many. To see the rest, you will have to visit the site but you will have to hurry as my informant thought the demolition work was scheduled to start on January 16th.
In Castlehaven Road we found a yard, closed off with a chainlink fence containing a disparate collection of objects. Beside a double-decker bus, this bronze lion caught my attention. I had to take the photo by holding the camera at arm’s length above the fence. (It is in such situations that the pull-out, rotatable preview screen is a real boon!) Even so, I couldn’t quite include the whole lion. I wonder where he comes from: a pub, perhaps? I would have taken him home if that had been possible and I had had somewhere to put him. He beats a garden gnome!
We walked along Haven Street and into Camden Lock Market where I took the above panoramic photo. (Click to see a larger version.) In this part of the market, the stalls are housed in wooden shacks rather like large beach huts. When closed you can see that the shutters of each hut are decorated with a painting in the same sort of style as street art paintings. These, though, were fairly pedestrian and I didn’t photograph any of them.
This wall painting was in a different class. Detailed and dramatic, it grabs your attention and holds your gaze yet gives away nothing of its own mystery. It is by artist Dale Grimshaw.
That was my last photo of the ramble. It had been an eventful trip and we had seen some fascinating artwork. Now, we were happy to catch a bus and head for home.