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Wapping: How artist Ed J Bucknall captures snapshots of London in his creative work

Architect turned painter sells work in person at Wapping Docklands Market + Canada Water Market

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“You can never run out of things to paint in London,” said Ed J Bucknall.

While he doesn’t say so explicitly during our interview, it’s clear the Wapping-based artist has a deep passion for the city around him – a deep connection to and endless fascination with the very fabric of the place.

“A lot of the inspiration for me is derived from the Thames – the changing light and the changing skyline – because London’s being constantly reconfigured,” he said.

“My works are almost snapshots to record this decade of London expanding.

“I always carry a sketchbook with me, so I’m often seen locally, sketching and drawing in pubs in winter and outdoors in summer.

“I do as much of my work as I can on location, including painting.

“I work in pen and ink, watercolour, acrylic and oils on paper, canvas and even marble.

“I’m self-taught and the nice thing is that I haven’t been moulded to a particular style or technique. I paint what I want to paint and people either like it or not.

“Over time, I’ve learnt techniques that work for me and I take inspiration from generations of amazing artists.”

Detail from Canary Wharf In Mist by Ed J Bucknall

Originally Ed trained as an architect in Leeds, before moving to London in 2011 and continuing to practise his chosen profession.

While drawing was one of the things that first attracted him to architecture, he increasingly found the digital side of his work less satisfying, which prompted a change in direction with the arrival of the pandemic.

“From an early age I’d always painted and drawn for pleasure,” he said.

“When I started as an architect, it was all rooms full of drawing boards, but with computer aided design, you hardly see anything like that now.

“I was having some success with gallery shows and selling art alongside my career as an architect and the lockdowns were the catalyst for me to move into making art full-time.

“I started selling paintings at Wapping Docklands Market at Brussels Wharf in 2021 on Saturdays and then, last year, at Canada Water Market in Deal Porter Square on Sundays.

“I was the first non-food trader at the former and that’s now brought in a lot more crafts, which have been very popular.

Detail from Great Jubilee Wharf by Ed J Bucknall

“At the same time, I exhibit full time at Skylark Galleries on the South Bank.

“Between those three, it’s been great for exposure and I’ve had a lot of success with ongoing commissions including pub signs and bespoke cards for Greene King to sell in their pubs.

“I’ve also had some of my images appear in worldwide publications.

“Art has always been my passion, but I never thought I would make ends meet as an artist.

“One of the things that has surprised and encouraged me since going full time is that it’s possible to make a living making art in London.

“Fortunately for me, my work strikes a chord with a whole range of different people – locals who have lived in the area for many years and are delighted to see an artist draw and paint what they see and experience, people moving into the area, some moving out and tourists visiting.

“I think what appeals is that my pieces are quite traditional but they are not just photos. They are my take on whatever I see inspired by a particular view or the light.”

While Ed’s work often features familiar landmarks, he’s always looking to bring a fresh perspective to the places he draws and paints.

Detail from Shadwell Basin, Wapping by Ed J Bucknall

“Low vantage points always inspire me,” he said.

“When the tide goes out and you’re down on the Thames foreshore, you see buildings and the whole of London in a different way.

“I used to kayak on the Thames, so I was privileged to see unusual views, and that’s part of my mindset. It’s escapism from the hustle and bustle of the city.

“You can be in central London, or in Wapping, just down by the water and it gives you a sense of tranquillity – although you have to be aware of the tides of course, which can also change the view as boats rise and fall.

“The sketches I do on location are much better than photographs, which can distort things – so they are my crib-sheet for working on the finished pieces in the studio.

“I find the paintings just happen – some are happy accidents and some come through skills that I’ve picked up by trial and error. 

“Some of my pieces are painted on reclaimed marble, which is quite unusual.

“They look almost three dimensional and have a connection to the history of London.

“Some of the marble I use is recycled Thames ballast that would have been dumped in the river in the 18th and 19th centuries after ships had taken on cargo.

“It has natural patterning and colouration from its time in the river and that’s something I work with.”

A sketch by Ed of the interior of The Grapes pub in Limehouse

As a registered mudlark, Ed has a physical link to both the subject of his paintings and, with the marble, the medium he works with.

“I don’t dig or scrape on the foreshore, I just pick things up from the surface,” he said.

“Anything of archaeological significance is recorded and reported to the Museum Of London.

“The Thames is like a washing machine – items just get churned up and uncovered.”

Trading at the market is another point of connection, where visitors can browse his works or chat with their creator.

“It’s been a steep learning curve but one that I’ve really enjoyed,” he said. “It’s lovely to meet both fellow traders and the general public.

Detail from Ed’s painting of Canary Wharf on reclaimed marble

“I think it’s important that people have an opportunity to speak to artists and I’ve had lovely stories of young people being inspired by my work.”

As for the future, Ed intends to continue balancing the work he wants to paint with commissions from commercial clients and individuals. 

Ed’s work is available to buy online with an extensive range of signed prints from £35 and greetings cards and postcards also available. Prices for the latter start at £2.

Detail from Ed’s painting of St Paul’s on reclaimed marble

Read more: Discover the work of fashion businesses Fabrika and Vavi Studio

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Deptford: How artist Alice Gur-Arie digitally paints her photographs to create her work

Based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside, Alice has just released a second digital book of her pieces

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Alice Gur-Arie has always been creative.

“I’ve been writing since I could first hold a pencil and dabbled in various things when I was a teenager in school,” said the artist, currently based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside, Deptford. 

A career as an advertising creative and then manager of agencies saw her work first in her native Canada, then North America, Europe and India.

“I’d done what I set out to do – to work internationally in a multi-country environment and I was successful,” she said. 

“I wanted to go back to my creative roots – that was 10 years ago – and so I got myself a little studio in Deptford and started to take pictures. 

“I also had a lot of photographs from my travels – but I didn’t want to be a straight photographer.”

Instead, Alice taught herself to paint her photographs digitally with the aim of creating something new.

The body of work she has created is varied and extensive, with images that are colourful, monochrome, three dimensional, two dimensional, photographic and almost entirely abstract.

Red from Alice’s Love On The Rocks series

“I never change the composition of the original photograph – it is what it is, it’s like a canvas,” she said.

“When choosing the ones to paint, I have a vision in my head – sometimes I achieve that and sometimes I can’t.

“Sometimes I can do it in several different ways – it’s always possible to repaint images.

“Each time I create an image, it goes back to being a writer, because I’m telling a story. There’s no absolute point where they’re finished.

“I just have to ask whether I’m satisfied with it and whether it says what I want it to say.”

The word, perhaps, for Alice’s creativity is “instinctive”. She looks at a photograph or a collection of objects and imagines what they could become.

“I have a series called Love On The Rocks,” she said.

“I took the images in Iceland – it was cold and raining while I was taking photos and my husband said he was going for a walk.

“There was a volcanic hill behind us and I took pictures of him as he walked along the ridge. He couldn’t see it, but I could see the outline of a woman in the shape of the hill. 

“For another series, I’d always wanted to do something with layered hills.

“In Portugal I got to a summit and just saw this amazing vista in front of me.

Eastern Hunt from Alice’s series The King’s Lodging

“So I started snapping away and, after I’d painted them digitally, I realised there was a romantic story in there, so I called the series The King’s Lodging.

“Each piece within it has its own title and the idea was to tell a story by displaying them together so the viewer could create the narrative in their head.”

Alice’s latest project has been to create a second digital book of her work, based on the Chinese Zodiac.

“I have a friend – John Vollmer – who is an Asian scholar,” she said.

“He sent me a picture of a snake from some archive in celebration of the year of the snake and I thought we could do a better job.

“We started collaborating for the year of the horse – I painted a photograph of the animal and he wrote the text. I wrote a story to go with it and once I’d done that I knew I wanted to do all 12 animals.

“It took a number of years, but the result was my first book Twelve: Shengxiao Zodiac Creatures In Art And Words featuring 32 images and 12 short stories. 

“Then John told me about five, which is an important number in Chinese philosophy. That led me to create Five: Wuxing Elements In Art And Words with a foreword by him.”

Alice’s latest digital book features 81 artworks, about 25% of which were made specifically for the project. 

Rebirth from Alice’s series The King’s Lodging

“While there are no stories in the book, I have written a poem for each of the elements. I want readers to really respond to the art in Five.

“I love landscapes and seascapes and ‘seeing’ is important to me. I want people to see things in a different way – familiar, but unfamiliar.

“It’s fantastic to have people look at and talk about your work because they see things in it that you don’t.

“For example, I made a piece from a photograph of the tailpiece of a stringed instrument and people saw a boat in the final work.”

While the majority of Alice’s work is created digitally, she also creates sculptures, including recent pieces using found objects.

Nightlife In Blue

“I don’t like sitting at a computer all day long, but my paintings don’t get made if I don’t do some of that,” she said.

“I’ve always loved working with my hands and I have an idea that I will also make collages from my finished digital paintings.

“With the wall hangings, I had some different kinds of rope and just started to play.

“The fairy stones – ones you find that have natural holes – are from the Mediterranean and Ramsgate.

“I’d had them for years, having collected them, and I thought I’d do something with them that has different textures.

“I’m fascinated by texture in all my work. I try to make a big thing of that in my paintings because we live in a world that’s anything but flat.

“First, it’s about the photography. I have to go out and take the image. If I didn’t do that, you wouldn’t have the picture.

“Then the paintings sit within a range – a set of dimensions.

“That means I can achieve results that are more photographic while others are more in the middle or much more abstract.

“I often strive for the sweet spot between those two things that combines them both, but sometimes the painting won’t let me go there.

“They take varying amounts of time – it really depends on the picture and on me.

“I have a painting from India that took me 10 years because I kept going back to it.

“It wasn’t saying to me what I wanted it to say, so I put it away and would bring it out every couple of years and try again until it was finally complete.”

Alice’s works are available for sale online.

Noon At Beach Point

Read more: Discover Space Lab at APT Gallery in Deptford

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Deptford: How APT Gallery is set to be filled with artists’ collaborative experiments

Co-curator Nicola Rae talks science, art and why she’s not completely sure yet what will go on display

Nicola Rae is reflected in a mirror from a telescope

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If you think this article is going to explain exactly what will fill the Art In Perpetuity Trust Gallery from February 16 to March 5, you’re in for a disappointment.

But sit with Space Lab co-curator and artist Nicola Rae for a chat about the exhibition and you can’t help but feel a little awed by its ambition.

Her studio space at the creative enclave on the banks of Deptford Creek is currently festooned with tripods as part of her collaboration with the Gravity Laboratory at the University Of Nottingham

These await various pieces of equipment that will focus on a series of fluid vortices, part of an investigation into gravity, water and acoustic waves. 

Magnets will spin, stirring liquids in tubular glass vases, while a camera is used to capture something called schlieren distortions.

Quite how it will all come together is still a work in progress.

This is just one of seven co-creative experiments conceived for Space Lab by Nicola and co-curator Ulrike Kuchner, an artist, astrophysicist and creative producer.

“We have spent more than a year on this show,” said Nicola.

“We put in an application for grant funding to the Science And Technology Facilities Council and were amazed that we got everything we asked for.

“In a way we shouldn’t have been surprised, because Space Lab is an incredibly exciting project.

“Ulrike, as a post-doc researcher at Nottingham, has a lot of connections and she feels strongly that often collaborations are not as in-depth as they could be, focusing instead on public engagement or the dissemination of research by scientists.

“So we set off with the idea of going deeper. We also wanted the artists and scientists to have a really big space for the work they create.

“We call Space Lab an expanded field of experiments –  it is the idea of going beyond limits, outside the remit of scientific experimentation.

“Everyone involved is very interested in process. I haven’t seen all the finished work yet, including my own, but we have set really ambitious targets.

“Some of it will work and some of it won’t. Some will change in curation from how it appears in the studio when it’s placed in the gallery.

“We want all those elements to be free flowing, allowing things to happen.”

While the experiments are too complex to list comprehensively here, one to watch out for is bio-designer Anshuman Gupta’s BioBorgs – biocomputers that imagine a reality where organisms can act autonomously, based on environmental threats. 

These respond to the research of collaborator and exoplanetary astronomer, Amaury Triaud, into the Trappist-1 system.

Its planets are most optimal for evidence of life beyond our solar system.

“We wanted to set this ambition that the artists would contribute meaningfully to the science,” said Nicola, who has been based at APT’s studios since 1995 and has taught at the Univeristy Of The Arts London since 2006.

“My work will be a series of experiments working with liquid vortices and I’m making the scientific equipment myself.

Nicola will be creating liquid vorticies as part of her collaborative experiment

“I’ll be working with quinine and coconut oil in the water to create different densities.

“There will also be magnifying glasses and different equipment on tripods and there will probably be a performative element as well.

“At the heart of it, we’re trying to communicate a fascination with phenomena and the scientific process – something that’s so often seen in labs but less so outside them.”

Aside from the seven collaborative experiments, there’s another strand to Space Lab. 

As part of the process of putting the exhibition together, the curators have been working with Tech Yard creative technologist Jazmin Morris to create a series of workshops for young people.

Titled Space Labs: Stars In Your Eyes, these have seen astrophysicists going into Lewisham schools to explore the themes of the exhibition and have a go at creating their own pieces. 

“The big surprise for us was how enthusiastic the children were, particularly when talking about science questions, and there’d be a big sea of hands going up, asking really good questions,” said Nicola.

“We thought there might be a lack of interest, but not at all.

“We will be featuring some of the students’ work on screen at the exhibition and we’ll be inviting their families and friends to see that on the last weekend of the show.

“I hope anyone who comes down to see Space Lab feels really intrigued and excited.

“Astrophysics is seen as quite elitist but this is all about reaching out to people who might feel they could go into this field.

“With new telescopes generating a huge amount of data, this is really an expanding area.

“It’s not just about the children, but also changing the minds of parents.

“This is something that’s come up in research again and again – kids listen to their parents and it’s really sad that children who are good at maths are told they shouldn’t go into these areas.

“When you go into these astrophysics departments, you see how varied an environment it is – people from different countries around the world – and that’s very exciting to see. 

“Although we’re artists and creative technologists, one of the lovely things that comes up in the feedback we’ve had is how many of the children participating in the workshops are now considering science as a career.”

Space Lab is set to go on show from February 16 to March 5 at APT Gallery in Creekside.

Entry is free.

Read more: How Atis aims to nourish and satisfy Wharfers

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Deptford: How sculptor Dot Young uses her work to highlight environmental issues

Based at Art Hub Studios, the artist draws inspiration from Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai

Sculptor Dot Young at work in her studio
Sculptor Dot Young at work in her studio – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

What do a Nobel Prize-winning Kenyan environmentalist and a Scottish-born sculptor based in Deptford have in common?

Both felt overwhelmed by the raging environmental issues facing the world and decided to take action, no matter how small.

In the 1970s Wangari Maathai spoke of a hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire with tiny drops of water while larger animals disparaged it for being too small to help. It replied: “I’m doing the best I can”.

“That for me is what we all should do,” Wangari said.

“Be like the hummingbird. I may be insignificant, but I certainly don’t want to be like the animals watching as the planet goes down the drain.”

She went on to help reforest swathes of Africa and founded the Green Belt movement.

Half a century later, Deptford creative Dot Young is celebrating Wangari’s story with a series of delicate relief sculptures and is seeking to make her own practice as sustainable as possible.

“I work in an industry that is quite environmentally impactful,” said the 58-year-old, who has been based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside for the last decade.

“It’s on the consciousness of makers, about how what we’re doing impacts the planet. I don’t use resin anymore and I’ve been experimenting with more environmentally friendly materials.

“As a sculptor, you can get caught up in lots of non-biodegradable plastics that aren’t really appropriate anymore.

“I also run a degree course in prop-making at the Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama and I’ve been turning the focus to not ordering as much timber and using thick cardboards.”

Dot works from initial sketches before using polymer clay
Dot works from initial sketches before using polymer clay – image Matt Grayson

Her work on Wangari is part of her Natural Formations series, which celebrates habitats, the environment and activists.

She has based much of it on 19th Century illustrative prints from environmentalists and botanists.

She has crafted the reliefs from hard plaster or jesmonite, a more sustainable alternative to resin, and has been experimenting by casting with different papers.

Dot said to find eco-friendly methods we only needed to look back.

“I worked in Venice for a short period with the mask makers,” she said.

“The traditional Venetian mask is actually made from a woollen paper called carta lana, soaked into a plaster mould and coated in sermel gesso, another environmentally friendly, ancient material.

“This method eventually got usurped by Chinese vacuum-formed plastics.

“It’s really interesting when you turn the clock back and look at what things were made of, pre-industrial revolution.

“You find ways of making that can be reinvented in a contemporary style.

“I’m interested in experimenting in mixing dust with gum arabic.

“The possibilities are endless for looking at how you might develop a new material.”

Dot first became more conscious of eco issues through her project Chair, which tracked the history of an oak chair from the forest where the tree had grown, to the sawmill and then the furniture manufacturer.

“The only chair I could find that was fully made in Britain was from High Wycombe,” she said.

“It made me realise we don’t have a furniture industry in the UK anymore, which is very sad.

“Then I moved on to tracking other things, like hair extensions I bought in Dulwich, which I traced back to Chennai in India. 

“I was getting very aware of the globalisation of materials and doing the work to give people an idea that there was a responsibility around the objects we buy, of knowing where they come from, how they’re manufactured, if people have been exploited and their carbon footprint. 

“It actually got quite intense and depressing. The reality was very overwhelming.

“I could have become a political activist but I decided to go back to the studio, because I wanted to find a way to celebrate nature.”

Dot's pieces take as long as they take
Dot’s pieces take as long as they take – image Matt Grayson

Dot began looking at the work of people who had archived natural phenomena, such as Ernst Haeckel.

To capture them in 3D she started using a method she calls slow sculpting, allowing whatever time is required to complete each piece.

She believes that having this intense and intimate relationship with the work is communicated in the outcomes.

“I’d been doing a lot of sculptural installation work until then,” said Dot.

“It had been very conceptual and I was craving the technical challenge of traditional sculpture.

“I did some completely out-there pieces, inspired by 19th century cakes but really wanted to get more intricate, and I’ve always felt relief sculpture was something a little bit tangential to the rest of the sculpture area. 

“It’s all around London if you just look up and, historically, it’s a way of telling narratives used by the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.

“I really enjoy the technical challenge and creating stories within the work.”

Dot is based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside
Dot is based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside – image Matt Grayson

It is a stark contrast to her commercial work, which has included making heads of political leaders such as Barack Obama for Oxfam.

“That work can be really fun and I like working for organisations that are making a difference,” said Dot.

“But it is fast and furious and I have to produce it to a high standard.

“What I really love about the relief work is that I don’t put a time limit on it. It will take as long as it takes to get it right. 

“When you spend that time laboriously doing it again and again, it’s very meditative but it also speaks of slowing down and spending quality time doing something that’s hopefully, valuable.”

Each piece starts with lots of drawing and collaging to come up with a design, which is then transferred to a wooden board.

From there, Dot hand sculpts the design using polymer clay, which doesn’t dry out quickly – meaning she can spend several days or weeks on each piece.

Once the sculpting is finished, she makes a mould of the piece and casts it. She then sculpts out any imperfections and moulds and casts again.

“That makes it a very flexible process with lots more opportunities to add, take away and change it along the way and have a wider variety of outcomes,” said Dot.

“Sometimes it can be really frustrating. If it’s a really complex one, I do sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed if I can’t get it to work. 

“But I know from experience that I just have to walk away, leave it and then come back to it. 

“It’s definitely not a simple, linear process. Sometimes I do a drawing I think will work in relief, but then it doesn’t.”

“The work can’t just be decorative – I’m not really interested in that,” added Dot, who runs sculptural workshops and classes with Action For Refugees in Lewisham and has created experiential sculptural work for dementia-suffering residents in care homes.

“It’s got to have something that’s either powerful in its symbolism or be beautifully mathematical and geometric. 

“I love Islamic art because it relates to the universe and secret geometry.

“That’s been a big influence.”

Dot's croton seed sculpture honours Wangari
Dot’s croton seed sculpture honours Wangari – image Matt Grayson

Born in Edinburgh, Dot was introduced to the joy of objects and making by her father, a mechanical engineer, who was at the forefront of developing lasers.

After studying sculpture in Sheffield, she moved to London and was swept up in the 1990s era of shared housing, cooperatives and artist squats.

She then spent time in Africa, sculpting across Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and in the Tenganenge Sculpture village in Zimbabwe, which is another reason for her interest in Wangari Maathai.

Dot has already sculpted a panel inspired by the environmentalist featuring a croton seed, associated with the Kenyan reforestation programme and the African fabric associated with Wangari.

She is now working on a larger panel for the Craft In Focus event at Hever Castle in Kent (Sept 8-11, 2022), which will feature, hummingbirds, naturally.

“It will make a larger statement about her narrative – about how you can make a difference, no matter how small the effort you make,” said Dot.

“People that genuinely have an awareness of the environment are drawn to this work.

“There’s quite a limited audience when you’re doing really specialist installation pieces, whereas the work I do now is more commercial so I feel the audience is wider. 

“Communicating with more people means I have a bigger voice, which I’m really enjoying. 

“When people ask what it’s about then I really get to talk about the state of the planet and how my work is motivated by the concerns we have – but not in a negative way, kind of a celebratory way.”

Read more: How Unifi.id can help building owners cut carbon

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Canary Wharf: How Lothar Götz’s works bring depth to Canary Wharf’s Pride Month

Artist’s three installations celebrate LGBTQIA+ culture and achievements across the estate in June

Lothar stands in front of part of his work Electro-Rainbow
Lothar stands in front of part of his work Electro-Rainbow

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People walking down the Riverside Steps from Westferry Circus may not notice them at all.

Those turning round or going up might take them for a pleasing geometric arrangement of brightly coloured shapes.

Few, it’s fair to say, will immediately associate the pink triangles with the Nazis’ persecution of gay and bisexual men and transgender women.

“They were made to wear pink triangles in the concentration camps,” said artist Lothar Götz, who created the artwork, titled Upbeat for Canary Wharf’s celebration of Pride Month in June.

“When I was in my 20s, we all discovered what happened in Nazi Germany.

“As a gay man, I would most likely have ended up in a camp and that was quite a daunting thing to understand.

“That was why in the 1980s we were wearing pink triangles as a reference to what happened. 

“I like pink as a colour, it’s important to me and very much linked to the gay identity and while I didn’t want to make a piece that singled that colour out, if people notice it as a reference that clearly celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community’s achievements then that is great.”

It’s that broad mission that spells out the scope of three works Lothar has created on the estate after being commissioned by Canary Wharf to mark Pride.

His other two pieces – Jump and Elector-Rainbow – can be found on the Reuters Plaza steps up to One Canada Square and in Crossrail Place.

Lothar sits surrounded by the triangles of his piece Upbeat
Lothar sits surrounded by the triangles of his piece Upbeat

All three use colours drawn from the Progress Pride Flag, a symbol created in 2018 that builds on the traditional rainbow to embrace the wider LGBTQIA+ community.

Forest Gate resident Lothar, who works from a studio in Stratford, first visited Canary Wharf as a student when only One Canada Square and a collection of comparatively low-rise buildings had been constructed. 

“That was long before I moved here – there were only a few tower blocks, but it’s always been an area that’s fascinated me,” he said.

“In those days it felt very artificial so it’s interesting to see how it’s becoming more and more lively all the time.

“When I first moved to London and saw Canary Wharf again, I couldn’t have dreamt that it might be a space where I could do a site-specific installation.

“When I was a child, growing up in Grünsberg in Bavaria, I didn’t know the word for being gay – it didn’t really exist there.

“Then later there was the idea of coming out and I didn’t know what that was either – gay culture was something that very much only happened in gay bars. 

“Moving from a provincial town to a city where you could go and actually meet people who were like you was fantastic – that this was normal was such a major achievement. 

“I got married six years ago at Chelsea Town Hall and I found it tough going down those iconic steps – it was so emotional. 

A Wharfer walks past Electro-Rainbow at Crossrail Place
A Wharfer walks past Electro-Rainbow at Crossrail Place

“That you have installations like this celebrating Pride, in places like Canary Wharf, which are associated with power and money  is quite amazing – it’s so important for the whole LGBTQIA+ movement.

“When I was shown the steps and places they wanted me to create pieces for, I honestly couldn’t believe it.

“That it would be possible for me to make work in celebration of Pride in these locations, where people would be going up and down, doing their business and it would be part of normality, well I found that very touching.”

Lothar began his career as a student of aesthetics before moving to London to study painting at the Royal College Of Art.

Inspired by a childhood love of building sites as Bauhaus-style dwellings were erected in the town he grew up in, his work has often related to, or been directly applied to, architecture.

“I found those bungalows especially interesting when they were not finished,” he said. “As soon as they were, they were just living spaces, not the abstract fantasy spaces I’d used them as.

Lotar sits amid his work Jump at Reuters Plaza Steps
Lotar sits amid his work Jump at Reuters Plaza Steps

“That has informed my later work, including the pieces I’ve created in Canary Wharf.

“I try to highlight the spaces themselves – the steps, for example, are not just functional. With the colours it’s a bit like the effect of a red carpet for a specific event – you change the space and it’s that quality that interests me.

“It’s similar to the way flags and bunting for the Jubilee change a village green into something different.”

Lothar said the quality of the pieces he produced for Pride was of fundamental concern to him.

“I always want to leave how people respond to my works pretty open,” he said. “I wanted to do a series of serious artworks that were somewhere in between being immediately identifiable as works for Pride and simply art in their own right. 

“I think that when you look at them, you notice that the colours are Pride colours, but it was also important to me to say that people aren’t just gay in June. 

“There are still hurdles in life for LGBTQIA+ people – perhaps not as many as there were but they are still there.

“I hope people pause and think a little bit, that I’ve created something that’s subtle. That’s why the darker elements are in the work.

“My work is abstract, but it always has stories behind it. Electro-Rainbow, for example responds to the large panels it is on – the architecture.

“But the kaleidoscope of the colours makes reference to club culture – the dancing, the lights and the colours – which has been very important in the history of gay liberation, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Lothar's Upbeat at Riverside Steps near Westferry Circus
Lothar’s Upbeat at Riverside Steps near Westferry Circus

Jump is about the jumps in progress that have been made – the steps it is on are quite big but they’re still dwarfed by One Canada Square above them.

“It’s a reminder that as a gay man I still need a safe space because it’s still a big thing to come out, but that there have been these jumps.

“My love and relationship have a completely different level of acceptance now than would have been possible when I had my first relationship.

Upbeat is really a response to the architecture and takes the pyramid on top of One Canada Square as one of its dominant elements.

“But again, you have those Progress Pride Flag colours and the lozenge shapes that are similar to the facade of Newfoundland and the blue and white lozenges on the Bavarian flag, which is where I’m originally from.

“That is an abstraction of the shapes the clouds make.

“With this piece, I wanted to describe the feeling you get when you step off the boat and walk up that stairway to Heaven. It’s very beautiful.”

  • Lothar’s works are on show in Canary Wharf until the end of June, 2022, as part of the estate’s wider celebration of Pride Month.

Read more: Find out how mudlark Nicola White makes art from her finds

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Woolwich: How Tideline Art’s Nicola White digs up treasure from the Thames mud

How one former banking PA turned artist rediscovered her childhood love of found things

Artist Nicola White on the Thames foreshore
Artist Nicola White on the Thames foreshore – image James Perrin

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The tide is high when I speak to Nicola White.

It’s a matter of small consequence to most Londoners, but to the 53-year-old mudlarker, it’s from the rise and fall of the waters that life emerges.

The Woolwich resident remembers two very distinct desires from her childhood in Cornwall – to never, ever work as a boring secretary and to have her own shed where all her treasures could be displayed.

As a young girl, she avidly combed the beaches and land, collecting shells, driftwood, bits of rope, mushrooms, toadstools, seedpods and eggshells.

“It’s something I have always enjoyed doing – using things I’ve found in artworks,” said Nicola.

“Life happens and, when I became a teenager, I lost interest and went and lived in France and then had my first child pretty young at 22 – everything was on hold, because I had to work.

“I did a bilingual secretarial course because I speak fluent French and then worked as a PA for banks in Paris and London.”

Nicola uses her finds to make art
Nicola uses her finds to make art – image James Perrin

For 25 years, Nicola found herself doing a job she had vowed to avoid. While it brought her a comfortable life, money to buy a flat, security for her son and later her daughter, she never loved it.

“I was at the mercy of my choices for quite a while,” she said. “I was very good at my job, but I had this feeling it wasn’t what life was all about.

“I had this burning desire to create and make art and just be outside. I couldn’t ignore this thing in me.

“That said, I wanted to share my passion with other people and make the most of my life. I tried to ignore it but I was getting more miserable.”

She already knew the answer lay outside her door on the banks of the Thames.

When Nicola moved to London in 1999 she was almost immediately attracted to the river because it reminded her of her childhood in Truro.

“One day I was in Greenwich and the tide was low and there were these steps leading down to this long stretch of beach,” she said.

“I was just drawn to go down there and found this really peaceful world away from all my worries and my job.”

She started finding pieces of broken pottery and glass and used them to create art, just like she did as a child. Eventually she spotted her first coin.

It was then she discovered what she was doing had a name – mudlarking – the practice of scavenging through river mud for lost items of value or historical significance – this was a pastime enjoyed by a handful of Londoners back then.

But it has grown in popularity thanks to a blossoming online community, in which Nicola plays a large part.

She works under the name Tideline Art and has a YouTube channel with 135,000 subscribers where she documents her finds, broadcasting to 30,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram.

One of Nicola's pieces
One of Nicola’s pieces – image James Perrin

She also has a thriving business selling the art she crafts from the items she pulls from the mud. 

Her glass fish, which she puts up for sale twice a year, go for around £250 each and typically sell out within 24 hours.

Later this year she will be giving a series of talks as part of the Totally Thames Festival.

“Mudlarking is such a part of my life I can’t imagine not doing it,” said Nicola. She took the plunge eight years ago, aged 45, quit her job and rented out her flat to embrace the mudlarking life full time.

“I had been doing it for about 15 years – making art in my spare time and I suddenly thought: ‘I want to see if I can do something I love with my life’.

“I was very nervous of leaving banking, but I was building up Tideline Art on social media and my website and things gradually came together. 

“I think if you follow something you are really passionate about and put all your energies into it, then doors start to open up for you.”

Today she has a studio at her home in Woolwich filled with hundreds of treasures she has found over the years, including a silver half crown from Elizabeth I’s reign and a wax seal stamp that belonged to the Commodore Superintendant of Woolwich Dockyards .

“A while ago I was sitting in this room and thought – ‘Wow this is actually what I dreamed of as a child – it really fills me with joy’,” said Nicola.

Nicola also makes historic finds, including this 18th century onion bottle -
Nicola also makes historic finds, including this 18th century onion bottle – image James Perrin

She can be found on the foreshore as early as 6am and as late as 11pm, up to four times a week, looking for treasure. 

“It’s very hard not to go because you think you might miss out on something,” she said.

“That’s the thing about mudlarking – you simply don’t know what you are going to find and that’s what keeps you going back.”

Her love of naval and industrial history means Greenwich, Deptford and the Isle Of Dogs are her favourite areas to go, kitted out in sturdy boots and knee pads with her trowel and phone at the ready to document any finds.

“You need patience and persistence,” said Nicola. “People might think you just stroll down to the Thames and come back with lots of bounty without any effort.

“What people don’t see are the hours you go down and don’t come back with anything. 

“I get people asking where to go to find clay pipes, but mudlarks don’t give locations away because that is part of it – you have to go down and find out for yourselves. There’s no quick fix.

 “I have never met anyone who isn’t inspired by this idea that you can find and hold history in your hands. It’s accessible to everybody.”

There are negative aspects though. The mud can be dirty, smelly and full of rubbish – particularly plastic – and, more recently, face masks. It can be dangerous too.

“I got stuck in the mud once,” said Nicola. “Luckily someone was with me, but it really was quite scary and gave me a new respect for the mud.

“The tides can rush up and you have to make sure you know where your exits are, because there are pinch points where you can get cut off.”

Another of Nicola's fish sculptures
Another of Nicola’s fish sculptures – image James Perrin

Nicola mostly mudlarks alone as she enjoys the meditative aspect of it, but she said there was a strong sense of camaraderie in the community. 

“It can be competitive but also supportive – people will help you identify your finds and share information,” she said.

More important items do not get used in her art, but are researched and featured on her channels. Rarer items have to be reported to the authorities.

“You have to have a permit to mudlark from the Port Of London Authority,” said Nicola.

“One of the responsibilities we have is to report any find that is over 300 years old, or ones that are historically significant, to the Museum Of London and they put them into a database. 

“It’s really not the financial value. If you are going into mudlarking for that, then forget it. It’s about the story behind the finds for any genuine mudlarker. I like to think of the Thames as a giant liquid storybook.”

So in all those hours on the foreshore has she ever let anything slip through her fingers?

“I don’t think I’ve ever lost anything but one day I would like to throw something in for someone to find in 300 years,” she said. “I wonder what they’d find out about me? It makes me think of my own story.”

And that’s the truth of mudlarking. Everything and everyone has a story to tell.

Treasures rescued from the mud -
Treasures rescued from the mud – image James Perrin

Read more: Enjoy an extract from London Clay by Tom Chivers

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Canary Wharf: Discover Patricia Volk’s vibrant clay sculptures with Cornucopia

Artist’s mid-career retrospective at One Canada Square brings more than 40 of her works together

Artist Patricia Volk with some of her pieces
Artist Patricia Volk with some of her pieces – image Matt Grayson

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“It annoys me slightly when someone describes me as a ceramicist or a ceramic sculptor, because I don’t think the fact I’m working with ceramics has anything to do with the pieces I produce,” said artist Patricia Volk.

“I have no interest in doing glazes or anything like that – I’m not a potter.

“I also have no interest in repeating things – I like to keep changing and developing. I like things to look as though they’re slightly unsteady, as if you would have to put your hand underneath them to stop them falling over.”

Cornucopia, a mid-career retrospective featuring more than 40 of her sculptures, is currently filling the lobby of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf.

The exhibition, which will remain in place until June 10, 2022, is free to visit and open every day.

The brightly coloured forms, often twisted and curled in on themselves, present a stark contrast to the marbled hues of the tower’s ground floor space.

“When I’m making the piece, I never think of how people might respond at the other end,” said Patricia.

“But I would like to think that people would enjoy seeing them, and maybe that the work would give them something to think about as well.

“I hope people are moved and might pick things up that I might have been thinking about subliminally. There is a series of pieces called Source – very simple forms – that I really liked doing.

“They’re a contradiction with the totem pole pieces, which are quite complicated, because they are very simple forms with a drip.

“They have to be made properly because the drip won’t go where it’s supposed to if they aren’t – I can’t tell you how much satisfaction I get from doing those drips.”

As we talk, it becomes clear there’s a real connection in Patricia’s life between the work she creates and her own and others’ reactions to it.

Born in Belfast, she wanted to be an artist from an early age.

More than 40 of Patricia's works are on display
More than 40 of Patricia’s works are on display – image Matt Grayson

“It was what I always wanted to do – I can remember when someone asked me when I was five years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said I wanted to be an artist,” she said.

“My father was a member of the Ulster Arts Club and, when my mother wanted to get rid of me on a Sunday morning, I was packed off there.

“I remember walking around and looking at the paintings on the walls and the beautiful sculptures. It was a fantastic place and it was something to aspire to, definitely.

“I’m very dyslexic – I can remember starting school at the beginning, drawing a picture of a wedding and my teacher calling in another teacher to have a look at what I’d done – that’s where all my self-esteem came from. 

“I was completely obsessed with drawing – people would come up and ask me to draw a picture. I always won the prizes.”

With no portfolio, however, art college was an impossibility and Patricia got a job in the textile industry before moving to London at the age of 17.

Again unable to get into art college – something she admits would have been a remote possibility for someone of her age – she nevertheless found work and stayed.

“It was when everybody believed that London was the most exciting place and two of my friends decided to leave home,” said Patricia.

“We were very, very young, and I thought I’d just do that as well. My mother was delighted to see me go and I just stayed.

“Things happened, circumstances happened. I got a job very quickly here and I got married very young and had a child.

“I came over in the April and the Troubles started in the August.Then there was no going back.

“It was a bad time, but people here were very kind to me. I got a job as a typist and then went to work in advertising and met my husband.

“The group he was with had all been to art college – they’d done film and TV.

“Then, one night, in my mid-30s, after 16 years of not drawing, I picked up a pencil and thought that I could still do it.

Patricia's early work focussed on heads
Patricia’s early work focussed on heads – image Matt Grayson

“I said to someone that I had always wanted to go to art college, so I took a year out, went to adult education classes at the Camden Institute and Islington Institute, and did life drawing and clay modelling. 

“I remember someone walking in and seeing a figure I had done, and saying that I’d got something – that I could do it, and it gave me such pleasure.

“Looking back, there’s always been someone who has said something like that when my confidence has been at its lowest, to pick me up and make me look forward.

“In that year out I got a portfolio together, applied to Middlesex Poly because someone said I had to do a foundation course.

“I went to a party and someone asked what I was doing, and I said that I wanted to go to art college but I’d never get in because I was shit, and they got my address, got an application, sent it off and, although my husband said I’d never get in, I did, and that day was the happiest day of my life.

“For the first time, I hadn’t told any lies about my qualifications and I’d got in because of what was in my portfolio.

“So then I started my education at Middlesex Poly, and went on to do three-dimensional design. After I’d done my degree it was my mindset to go out and earn a living.”

And to a certain extent, that’s what she did.

Constantly altering and changing her approach she’s progressed from making monumental heads to writhing coloured forms and vibrant totem poles.

Recognised as a Royal West Of England Academician and a fellow of the Royal Society Of Sculptors, her work can be found in numerous private, national and international collections including the Swindon Museum And Art Gallery.

Perhaps her success can partly be explained by the forces and inspirations at work within her pieces, absorbed throughout her life.

She said: “As a trainee designer in Belfast, the lady who ran the company had come from Vienna with absolutely nothing and had certain ways of doing things.

“She taught me how to do patterns so no material was wasted. Even now when I roll out a big slab of clay I’m thinking ‘100% economy’. 

“It’s interesting how the things that happen to you when you’re a lot younger have such a dramatic effect.

“What’s important to me about my work is that it keeps me sane when I’m feeling down in the dumps. 

“It’s fascinating that pieces I’ve done which people find uplifting may have been done when I’ve been feeling depressed.”

Patricia's pieces are made from clay and often hollow
Patricia’s pieces are made from clay and often hollow – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Ian Berry set to create denim artwork for Canary Wharf

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Deptford: Why Art In Perpetuity Trust is seeking up to five new trustees

Charity aims to build resilient organisation for the future to operate studios and gallery space

APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees
APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees

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We are practising ‘artist-led’ as a reality, not just terminology – we are living and breathing creative independence and that’s something we strive for in perpetuity, just as our name says.”

In a nutshell, that’s APT, as described by its administrative director, Sarah Walsh.  

The Art In Perpetuity Trust operates from, and indeed owns outright, a former textile warehouse on the banks of Deptford Creek, a complex that houses 42 artists’ studios, a thriving gallery, a performance space and a working sculpture garden off Creekside. 

But it’s much more than just a landlord, it’s a potent, creative community and, following a period of evaluation and reflection during the pandemic, the charity that runs it is reaching out to recruit new trustees to help it continue to deliver its mission, namely to support creative thought and artistic vision both in the studio and the wider world.

APT administrative director Sarah Walsh
APT administrative director Sarah Walsh

“APT was set up 20 years ago by a group of artists who were looking to find new studios after they were forced to move from their previous home,” said Sarah. 

“They made an arrangement with the guy who was selling the building to slowly purchase the freehold over a period of time and then transformed the legal structure of the organisation into a charity.

“It’s not just a studio complex, it’s a space for interaction, for the exchange of ideas – it’s a community and it’s been created that way purposefully to provide support for those who have left education and want a space that isn’t isolated but alongside their peers.”

Now APT is seeking up to five new trustees to bolster the charity’s board who will work alongside the committees of artists resident on-site that drive its activities and direction.

Sarah said: “We are looking for people who can provide a range of skills and experience in five areas to ensure we remain a resilient organisation for the future.

“We’d like an artist or curator with an excellent industry profile, a legal expert with understanding of charity, property and employment law, someone with public sector experience and knowledge of local communities in south London, a trustee with a background in fundraising and income generation and a financial professional with a knowledge of the charitable sector.

APT owns its own building outright in Deptford
APT owns its own building outright in Deptford

“Trustees bring different voices, skillsets and experiences to the table that we can use to help build partnerships, communicate what we’re doing and maintain our resilience as they govern the charity.

“We have a unique structure here – the committees of artists don’t work independently, we all work in unison to run APT together.”

Trustees meet six times a year in addition to attending the charity’s AGM. Attendance at various private views and events will also be expected.

Sarah said: “As an organisation we’re always thinking about diversity, equality and inclusion and that includes the way in which we recruit trustees. 

“It’s important to us to be accessible and transparent and to reach out as widely as possible to attract a range of people who can represent APT successfully. 

“We’re a little nugget in Deptford with the most wonderful community – anyone coming in as a trustee will experience that.”

  • The deadline for applications to become a trustee is May 30, 2022

WHAT THE TRUSTEES SAY

  • “Being a trustee means you can see the direct impact and valuing of your skills and experience to make a positive difference to the lives of others in the local community. It opens up a whole new world of networks and creative possibilities on your doorstep.”

Jenny White, co-chair, APT Trustee

  • “Being a Trustee allows you to contribute your skills and knowledge to the development of an organic and creative organisation. You gain valuable experience being part of the  contemporary art scene and wider Deptford community. Besides, it’s fascinating to be engaging with artists and their diverse practices.”

Ann Gilmore, co-chair, APT Trustee

APT's gallery space on Creekside in Deptford
APT’s gallery space on Creekside in Deptford

Read more: Canada Water Market launches at Deal Porter Square

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Canary Wharf: How Ian Berry is set to create a new artwork from donated denim

The Poplar-based artist’s piece will be unveiled on the estate for World Environment Day on June 5

Artist Ian Berry, pictured surrounded by jeans in Cabot Square
Artist Ian Berry, pictured surrounded by jeans in Cabot Square

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Artist Ian Berry wants his work to be seen in real life – so apologies to anyone reading the this.

These reproductions might give you an idea of the kind of pieces he creates, but 2D reproductions on paper or digital screens just don’t cut it.

Based in Poplar, but hailing from Huddersfield via High Wycombe, Australia, Sweden and the Netherlands, the constant in Ian’s life is also his medium – denim.

Cutting, layering and gluing, he creates images and installations using a palette of jeans, constantly pushing to make the material accurately depict all manner of scenes, lighting effects, substances and surfaces.

The reason you’re looking at one of the pieces from Ian’s Behind Closed Doors series is that he’s just embarked on a project in partnership with Canary Wharf Group.

With used clothes donated at Jubilee Place last week, he’ll be stripping out the denim and using it to create an artwork, which will be unveiled on World Environment Day – June 5.

Detail for one of Ian's pieces for his Behind Closed Doors series
Detail for one of Ian’s pieces for his Behind Closed Doors series

“My work needs to be seen in real life to be understood,” said Ian, who works from a studio overlooking the Limehouse Cut canal.

“I don’t really feel like a real artist to those who haven’t seen my work in that way.

“I’d spent the pandemic having seven different shows in other countries – most of them solo and that was tough with all the quarantines and shipping issues.

“I’d just got back from Chile when I got an email from Canary Wharf asking about this project.

“At first I thought it would be great just because I could walk there rather than having to take pieces on aeroplanes.

“I walk through the estate when I catch the Jubilee line, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my work seen by more people in real life.

“But it also sounded interesting because of the estate’s sustainability credentials – it’s something that’s taken very seriously whereas some other places just use it for marketing. I’ve not spoken much about sustainability in the context of my work.

“Others have – as recycling or upcycling – but when I started 16 years ago it wasn’t the buzzword it is now.

“The project I’m doing with Canary Wharf Group reflects sustainability and the environment – denim’s terrible in its impact at the end of the day – but there are also good things happening in the industry.

“I don’t believe there’s a material that better reflects contemporary times, good or bad.”

Detail from Ian's Secret Garden
Detail from Ian’s Secret Garden

That really is the crux of things for Ian. While we talk it becomes clear there are all sorts of tensions at work between the artist, his medium and the subjects he chooses.

He tells me denim stands for freedom, democracy and the West to the point where it was banned in Russia and Belarus, where it’s still worn symbolically by dissenters.

Then again, it’s also the clothing of capitalism, excess and greed, with designer jeans selling for astronomical sums.

“I’m interested in people and in the denim industry, in workers’ rights,” said Ian. “I know everyone in the sector and there’s a lot of greenwashing going on – a lot of lying and they even tell me what their lies and exaggerations are. It’s frustrating.”

While Ian’s pieces are necessarily shot through with such issues – how noble attempts to pass on clothing to do good can come unstuck as second-hand garments wind up flooding foreign markets or simply get dumped overseas, for example – the denim he uses is also, importantly, just the stuff he uses to capture the world.

“I use it literally as my paint to represent contemporary life and issues you see every day,” he said.

“I have struggled for 16 years to know what to call them –  they’re not paintings, they’re collages, but using just one medium.

“In some there are 16 layers of denim, so they are very sculptural, 3D pieces, and they can be very effective, with the texture of the denim as well. All that gets lost if people look on their phones or laptops.

“The magic in my work is finding the gradients in the denim, the fades, the cat’s whiskers – where it goes from indigo to lighter shades. You can connect them together and get quite a photo-realistic piece.

“Sometimes I achieve that too well and people don’t realise it’s jeans, but you need that ‘aha’ factor for people to connect.

“It happens in America especially, where people look for a while and then get closer and closer and, at about 50cm away, they say: ‘Oh, my God, it’s blue jeans’. I don’t want it to be seen as a gimmick, though.

“I hope people appreciate the craft, the love and attention to detail and they are amazed that the piece is made out of denim.

“I do set myself technical challenges – how to depict shiny, metallic objects or water using this matt material. But the main thing is the subject.

“With the Behind Closed Doors series I wanted to depict this busy city we’re living in, which can be lonely. 

“That really connected with people – two out of three were saying: ‘Wow, that’s me’ – and it was kind of special.”

Detail from The Game by Ian Berry
Detail from The Game by Ian Berry

Ian, whose granddad was from east London, said he wasn’t sure what kind of piece he would create from the jeans donated in Canary Wharf.

He said: “Hopefully the piece I create will cause discussion and make people think. 

“I can’t give too much away at this stage in case the idea changes but I think it’s going to have an element of my hanging Secret Garden, which turns plants into cotton, into jeans and then back into plants again. 

“There’s a nod to sustainability in that – it’s nice because we can make something permanent out of the jeans. 

“If you wear a pair for 10 years and then throw them away, it might be just about OK, but now we have a world where people buy them, wear them two or three times and throw them out.”

Ian’s piece will be added to the Wharf’s permanent art collection.

Detail from The Roosevelt, LA, by Ian Berry
Detail from The Roosevelt, LA, by Ian Berry

Read more: Find out where to make your own cloth with Freeweaver Saori Studio

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Leamouth: Typewriter artist James Cook set for Trinity Buoy Wharf exhibition

Workshops will also be on offer for those who want to have a go at typing out their own pieces

James Cook will be showing his artwork at Trinity Buoy Wharf

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When I was a young child, my parents gave me an old typewriter to play with. I loved hitting the keys, hearing that distinctive, hypnotic clacking sound, twisting the knob that made the roller revolve. 

But I couldn’t really comprehend what it was for. Even though this was the 1980s, by the time I came of age to make marks on paper, computer keyboards had already replaced the old mechanical machines with their inky ribbons and staccato rhythms. Fun for a kid – a relic of a bygone age, perhaps – but nothing more.

It’s fortunate James Cook didn’t have that experience.

While studying A-Level art in 2014, he developed an interest in inventive ways to make marks, drawn to David Hockney’s iPad paintings.

“Then I came across Paul Smith, who had used typewriters,” said James. “What really caught my attention was his story.

“Born in 1921, he suffered with cerebral palsy his whole life. At the age of 11, his parents gave him a typewriter because he couldn’t hold a pencil.

“But, instead of writing, he ended up creating drawings, which was his passion. He only learnt to speak and walk as an adult, but at the age of 11 he was already creating these amazing pictures – drawings of the Mona Lisa and it fascinated me that it was even possible to do such a thing.

“Immediately after I had read about him, I started trawling around charity shops trying to find a typewriter – at first without much success.

“Then an elderly couple in one of the shops overheard that I was looking for a typewriter and told me that they had one belonging to the man’s late mother.

“It had been sitting in the attic for about 40 years, not being used, and they suggested that I could come round and collect it.”

After a few squirts of WD40, James got the mid 1950s Oliver Courier going and began to experiment.

“I was lucky I picked that typewriter up and that I didn’t give up straight away,” he said. “As time has gone on, I’ve discovered that there are some models that just don’t work for this kind of work.

“But what I had was a very expensive, very mechanically precise machine. If this hadn’t been the case I might not have stuck with it.”

They include landscapes and portraits
They include landscapes and portraits

Perseverance paid off however and James now makes his living generating work on his collection of 40 typewriters, painstakingly using them to tap out artwork, either from life or photographs.

It’s exacting work, with drawings typically taking between a week and a month to complete.

“Usually the typewriters have 44 keys, so I have those parameters to work within and choosing the characters to use is one of the most interesting parts of making these drawings,” said James.

“I’ve been doing this for about seven years now, mostly part-time, and more recently full-time, and I’ve learnt by trial and error which particular character works.

“If I’m drawing a portrait, and I need to recreate someone’s skin complexion, most people want to be seen in the best light, so even skin tones require a character that has a large surface area, like the ‘@’ symbol.

“That’s also good for shading, which can be achieved by hitting the key more softly.

“If someone has dimples or freckles, then I might use some asterisks, because it’s a much sharper mark, whereas the underscore is a perfect shape for drawing horizontal lines in an architectural drawing, like the bottom of a window sill, or doing brickwork.

“Achieving curves is very difficult, especially if you’re working across multiple sheets, because they all have to line up.

“Typewriters inherently want to go from left to right so they’re great for straight lines, but not so good for verticals and curves.

“So what I’m doing is using my left hand to ever so slightly twist the paragraph lever by a minuscule amount while I’m typing to create a curve, like the roof of The O2, for example.

“I can’t think of any other way of drawing that requires you to use both hands in this way. Your right hand is on the keys and your left hand is responsible for making sure you stamp that mark on a very precise point.

“Once it’s been made that’s it, there’s no way of undoing it – I won’t use Tippex so mistakes become part of the drawing.

Every drawing is made by painstakingly typing to make marks
Every drawing is made by painstakingly typing to make marks

From April 1-10, the largest ever exhibition of James’ work ever gathered together is set to be held at Trinity Buoy Wharf, with many of the pieces created at the east London location in Leamouth. Entry is free.

“Visitors will see the biggest collection of my work to date,” said James.

“It’s mostly pieces from London locations, usually drawn on site with views of places like Greenwich Park, the Thames Path and Trinity Buoy Wharf itself.

“What’s also important for the work is to add a second layer of information, so the drawings are not just about piecing together various characters, they also contain concealed messages or hidden lines of text.

“I’ve often done that more recently when I’ve been working on location and I’ve spotted something, or when a thought pops into my head, especially if it’s the middle of winter.

“I did some of the drawings in January and it was pretty cold outside, so a lot of the messages are me complaining how cold it was.”

James draws many of his pieces on location
James draws many of his pieces on location

Every weekday during the exhibition, James will be hosting free workshops for those who’d like to try creating their own typewriter art.

He said: “When people look at my art, usually it’s not enough, they want to know how it’s made.

“The idea is these groups of about five will get to sit in front of a typewriter and have a go.

“It won’t be creating finished masterpieces, but hopefully we’ll have some fun and it will be a start. 

“They can bring along pictures to inspire their typing or I can provide them for reference.”

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