An artist's paintings of East End London are finally gaining recognition


Doreen Fletcher started painting scenes of East End London in 1983 but gave up in 2004 after being discouraged by a lack of recognition.

A chance encounter with London blogger The Gentle Author helped bring her East End paintings to public attention in 2015.

An upcoming exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery is to show the breadth of her work, featuring atmospheric scenes of streets and parks, including buildings that have since been demolished.

She says of her art: "Since I was a teenager I have been committed to drawing and painting what might be termed 'the almost gone'.

"Be it the changing use of buildings, the crumbling of dry-stone walls, abandoned terraces and disused barns, faded shop signs, dilapidated street furniture or graffiti, they are all the stuff of my pictures, to be recorded before being swept away."

Here are some of her paintings, with descriptions in her own words.

Whit Sunday, Commercial Road, east London, 1989

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"In retrospect, this painting appears an optimistic view of what was in reality, a dusty, dirty and polluted road in the days before the underpass linking the The Highway to the docklands was built."

Corner shop, Canning Town, east London, 1994

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"One Saturday afternoon in June 1991, I decided to explore Canning Town on the other side of the River Lea. I followed a black-and-white collie down a street that had been cleared, awaiting redevelopment. The dog turned a corner and had vanished by the time I caught up but I assume he went into the newsagent's open door.

"This image stayed in my mind so I returned in autumn to buy some sweets in order to view the interior and make some quick sketches - but I was already too late. It was boarded up and I never found out if the dog had gone into the shop."

Bartlett Park, Poplar, east London, 1990

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"The isolation of the building and the smoke that frequently drifted up from the chimney inspired me to paint this. Months of experiment were required to find the right shade of white for the plume of smoke."

Rene's Cafe, Bow, east London, 1986

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"Six months after my arrival, the cafe closed forever.

"It remained for some time before bulldozers came along and it fell victim to the encroaching tide of development."

Bus stop, Mile End, east London, 1983

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"My first visit to Mile End was for a date in May 1983. I was intrigued by the building behind the bus stop, which appeared doomed, and I wanted to capture it before the bulldozers arrived.

"In fact, the edifice was flattened a year later. I was also intrigued by the two women waiting for a bus and wondered whether they knew each other."

Commercial Road in the snow, Limehouse, east London, 2003

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"Snow is rare in London and you need to be quick to capture the magic before it turns to slush.

"When snow fell in late February one year, I was out of the door by 08:00 to survey the crisp, clean landscape. I wandered down the canal until I reached Limehouse Basin but nothing caught my attention.

"I decided to circle back through the empty streets and I came across this scene at the top of Rotherhithe Tunnel Approach. The sky was a brilliant blue and the snow had transformed the sooty drabness of the Georgian terraced houses to their former elegance."

Launderette, Ben Jonson Road, Bow, east London, 1983

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"Until 1990, when I bought a washing machine, I made the fortnightly trek to the launderette in Salmon Lane. Two ladies worked there. Every time I dashed in and out, there was constant chit-chat and the air was blue with the mix of cigarette smoke and steam from the machines.

"For years I thought about doing a painting but by the time I got round to it, the launderette had had a facelift and lost its character. The ladies had retired and the smoky atmosphere had evaporated thanks to red 'No smoking' signs.

"Then, on a Sunday morning foray to Ben Jonson Road, I spied a couple of legs sticking out from a launderette situated in a parade of shops. I had my subject at last."

The Pubali Cafe, Commercial Road, Limehouse, east London, 1996

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"I was intrigued by this cafe, it was always open but no-one seemed to go inside. A small thin man stood motionless behind the counter or sat eating a plate of curry at a table.

"I succumbed to temptation and entered with my partner. We ordered coffee and it was the worst I ever tasted. This was a foggy Saturday in January 1985 with the Sun trying to break through. There was a lull in the traffic and I heard a rumbling boom like thunder. A bomb planted by the IRA had exploded at Tower Bridge and the sound carried down Commercial Road. I never returned to the cafe."

Mile End Park with canal, east London, 1986

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"The spring of 1985 was very cold in London but it was even colder in The Hague, where I was visiting. Yet, I was transfixed by works from the Dutch golden age of painting, particularly the View of Delft, by Vermeer, one of the first known cityscapes."

"Once back in London, I started a new series of works focusing on similar subject material in my vicinity."

Salmon Lane in the rain, Bow, east London, 1987

Image source, Doreen Fletcher / Nunnery Gallery

"It seemed to rain a lot in the 80s. I used to go to Salmon Lane most days, since there was a range of shops including a post office, a baker, an off-licence, a butcher, a greengrocer's, a dry-cleaner, a laundrette, fruit-and-veg stall, a pub and two Chinese restaurants - one of which was world famous."

The exhibition Doreen Fletcher, A Retrospective, is at the Nunnery Gallery, London, from 24 January to 24 March.

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