We hear a lot about the decline of the high street. The rise of internet shopping and more recently the covid lockdowns resulting in so many of the shops we remember from our childhood closing down.

No longer can we be sure of a Post Office, Bank, Woolworths, or a pub being nestled together on our local high street. Nor of bumping into friends and neighbours as they rush to pick up a loaf of bread before half-day closing.

But, in many places, they are still hives of activity and a focus for the community, a great place for people watching.

People Watching

Many of the works in this collection of paintings looking at the High Street focus on the people that inhabit the spaces. “Street storytelling” is how Mark Pearson describes his work “I am fascinated by the way people share space in their environment, and how I can portray the human figure within the urban setting.

Mark Pearson Love, Power, Peace Oil on resin-treated canvas 60 x 91 cm £4,500

“Here the deep perspective and sharp shadows of the bridge cut up the space; the poster of the man in the suit has a nostalgic feel while the 'Love Power Peace' jacket is of the moment.

Instead of a traditional canvas, I have used cardboard discarded in this street and recycled it by applying layers of resin to form a resistant base to apply oil paint. I like the way it created a rhythm of line on the surface, and that the faint ridges of the cardboard still remain under the layers of paint. 

I approached the painting working from a detailed study in acrylic & ink. Using a brush, I start off with a very basic line structure, then put more solid shapes down in layers using a colour palette of hot and cold primaries along with some earth colours.  Layers of shape overlap with each other; I take aspects out and then repaint them until the painting evolves to its conclusion.”

Mark Pearson Cash & Carry Oil on canvas 29 x 55 cm £1,550

“My main focus and inspiration are the streets of Peckham where I have lived and worked for nearly three decades; depicted here is the main high street where this row of shops is due for demolition and re-development in the near future. It can be seen as run-down, dilapidated, covered with graffiti but I feel that it has its own beauty that can be portrayed when the light source is right. This is an area where there has been a great deal of gentrification and I want to capture the scene before it is lost to history.

The light source from several places, on the street, elevated up high from the lamppost, the shop interiors, and also the interior of the walkway that leads to the station. The wet pavement reflects the light from the shops and brings the shop colours to the lower half of the painting. 

For this painting, I worked initially from sketches and also took photographs before commencing the oil on canvas in the studio.  I go straight in with the paintbrush, initially laying out the architecture in lines then painting is solid layers, scrapping off and reapplying paint until the composition takes shape.”

George Popesco High Street Sisters Oil on board 42 x 35 cm £850

“I have observed these figures on numerous occasions on our High Street, resolute and always attached by their arms making their way to the bus stop or taxi rank. I have sketched them from afar and always wished to introduce myself, however, I have not, to this date, had the occasion or felt confident to do so. I am fascinated by them, they are no doubt twins, so 'fragile' in appearance but always together, managing the shopping and the way home together. This small painting is an attempt to capture their presence, albeit, anonymous, I hope to be able to show it to them as a way of introduction.” - George Popesco

Norman Long Walk of Life Oil on board 51 x 64 cm £14,000

"Walk of Life is a personal vision of humanity. It is not a single place or moment but a meditation on my feelings as I move around any crowded street. If it is a moment, it is an exalted moment of vision, of which the protagonists are unaware.  The light which bathes this diverse humanity is broken by the shadow of three crosses. The central shadow falls on a father carrying a child, perhaps alluding to divine preservation through these uncertain times." - Norman Long. The painting is 21 feet long and depicts 46 people.

Hashim Akib Passing By Acrylic 84 x 69 cm £1,100

"This is a painting based on a photo I took of passers-by in London. I was taken by how the central figure remained so still when everyone around her was hurrying to their destination." - Hashim Akib

Annabelle Shelton Remnant Street Spray paint and graphite 100 x 100 cm £4,000

"Remnant Street is an urban street where time lapses and leaves ghostly trails of human presence before.  In a time of cautious behaviour one is too aware of the shadow of a place and what changes we might have in front of us." - Annabelle Shelton

Julian Rowe A Quickening Oil on canvas 100 x 120 cm £3,000

"A small group of people walking along the Digey in St Ives. They're in shadow but clearly energized. Much of my work centres on St Ives; its streets, people, the seaside, and the hidden byways just back from the harbour." - Julian Rowe

All Quiet on the High Street

Naila Hazell’s painting of a stroll through the Shepherds Bush market explores the stillness to be found in short precious moments, which often go unremembered, lost in the haste of life. “My paintings transform those unconscious moments to create conscious reminiscences that can be activated by every viewer."

Naila Hazell Shepherds Bush Market Oil on board 35 x 40 cm £600

Sharon Baker’s mixed media monotype print is based on photographs taken in the late 1980s of her grandparents' small terraced house.

“I have used enriched colours to create an otherworldly version of the house, better and brighter: a chocolate box image which has a lot of personal nostalgia linked to it. I am also choosing to celebrate the mundane and ubiquitous and my working-class cultural heritage in this subject matter.”

Sharon Baker Bay Window 23 Monotype image-transfer acrylic on paper 47 x 36 cm £500

Ben Hughes’ candid, but empathetic portraits of a seaside town, show not all of us missed the hustle and bustle of shoppers. “This was an unseasonably hot and sunny day in Weston-Super-Mare - all the fun of the seaside without the crowds.”

Ben Hughes Weston II Oil on board 61 x 61 cm £1,500

 

Kenopsia (noun): The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that's usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet

This term is referenced by Andrew Cropper in relation to his painting of Gregory House. One of three towers that make up the 'Leverton Gardens Towers'.

Andrew Cropper Lockdown Triptych No.2 - 'Wiggen House' (centre) Oil and acrylic on canvas 100 x 100 cm £2,500

“In the foreground, you can see the pub Barry's Bar on the left of the painting and on the right the wall of the noodle bar Yama Sushi. Both are closed.

On a Friday evening, pre-Covid, Barry's would have people on the streets and in the back garden thereby full of life. Yama Sushi similarly would be filling the pavement with light and noise, but its shutters are very clearly down.” - Andrew Cropper

Sue Casebourne captured an eerie feeling she had on the high street in paint too.

“I visited this cafe in the north of England just before lockdown and there was an uneasy feeling in the air as the afternoon darkened and the rain fell and I felt as if we were all paused on the edge of disaster. The colour reflects my mood and the sense of danger in an everyday scene.”

Sue Casebourne Red Cafe Acrylic 40 x 51 cm £600

Narbi Price's work involves journeys to specific places that have witnessed a range of events, variously historical, famous, personal, or forgotten. He researches the precise location of a chosen event, ranging from significant moments in music, film, and TV, whimsical acts through to places of violence and death amongst others. Working from photographs taken at the site, he makes paintings in the studio focussing on the abstract, formal, and painterly qualities of the resultant images.

Narbi Price Untitled Pride Painting (Stonewall) Acrylic on panel 70 x 100 cm £6,000

“In the heart of New York's Greenwich Village, The Stonewall Inn was the site where the Stonewall riots began in response to a police raid on 28 June 1969.

The LGTBQ community came together in solidarity, railing against years of systemic and societal oppression, and within a year the first Pride marches took place.

Lou Reed also lived above the Stonewall Inn in the early 70s, his apartment accessed by the door now painted with 'Pride'.” - Narbi Price

Wild with William Blake on the High Street

Aidan Potts’ group of paintings heeds William Blake’s words in Auguries of Innocence "To see heaven in a wildflower”

These studies of wildlife flowers growing in the crack of suburban walls and pavements draw attention to things that are normally overlooked. Aidan described them as “Portraits of urban extremophiles or chasmophytes, inspiring evidence of nature’s will to survive, to reject the void we have built.”

Aidan Potts Purple Payne's Watercolour 62 x 47 cm £1,100

William Blake saw “Marks of weakness, marks of woe.” in the streets, but once spotted, the existence of such large numbers and varieties of these plants greening our declining high streets, also give an individuality to streets lined with chain shops and global brands. The cheerful yellow face of a dandelion sprouting from a crack in the pavement always brightens my day.

Aidan Potts RedBrick Dandy Watercolour 62 x 47 cm £1,100

Aidan Potts Underfoot Watercolour 62 x 47 cm £1,100

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