This September, the East London Group returns to the Nunnery Gallery with a new collection of paintings, selected and curated by writer broadcaster Michael Rosen and radio producer film-maker Emma-Louise Williams. With a focus on Albert Turpin, who, as window cleaner, fireman, Mayor of Bethnal Green and leading member of the anti-fascist movement, was the ultimate ‘working artist’, the show will also be accompanied by a series of newly commissioned public artworks on and around Bow Road from Lindsey Mendick, Marcus Orlandi and Maxima Smith.
Working during the inter-war period, the East London Group of artists were made up of ordinary working men and women, attending art classes – Walter Sickert was among their teachers – and exhibiting their paintings alongside their day jobs. There were thirty-five members and the exhibition will include works by B A R Carter, William Coldstream, John Cooper, Elwin Hawthorne, Cecil Osbourne, Brynhild Parker, the Steggles brothers and Albert Turpin
Rosen and Williams have selected over 50 works for exhibition, with a special focus on little-known works by Albert Turpin. Turpin was not only a critically acclaimed artist but a prominent figure in local politics, as a leading force in the East End anti-fascist movement and Mayor of Bethnal Green. His works tell the story of the East End’s resilience through a turbulent time of war and peace and will be shown alongside sketchbooks and political pamphlets that haven’t been seen for 70 years, providing a vivid and contextual narrative to the paintings.
The new public artworks will be installed on Bow and Mile End Road, visible to passers-by throughout the exhibition; Mendick will commemorate a new park bench in the Group’s memory, installed at the iconic Bow Church and embedded with miniature ceramics that symbolise the views of then and now. Orlandi – known for his politically engaged work – will explore the parallels between Turpin’s fight against the extremist views of the 30s and our own generation’s struggle with terror, while Smith’s new film subtly remembers Turpin’s day job of a window cleaner, by filming the mesmerising lines of contemporary East End window washers at work. Walking tours of the local area will guide visitors around these new public artworks, finishing at Queen Mary University of London – who have supported the new commissions – where remnants of a mural painting by East London Group member Phyllis Bray can still be seen in the People’s Palace.
The patronage provided by the East London Group’s famed supporters – Sir Joseph Duveen, Samuel Courtauld and Arnold Bennett to name a few – led them to great heights, with their achievements contextualised in the press by the artists’ means of earning a living, a “window-cleaner”, “shop assistant” and “pipe inspector”. This exhibition, with its wealth of previously un-exhibited material, sheds new light on many of the characters of the group, who were accomplished artists – lauded by the art world – but also active war artists, heroes of east London politics and avid chroniclers of the changing face of the London of their time.
Images: Albert Turpin, courtesy the artist’s family © A.E.Turpin Estate, 2017