In 2003 the Millinery Works had the pleasure of hosting an exhibition of Eric Rimmington's paintings and drawings - .
The exhibition ran 6th May - 25 May 2003.
Most of us wear our public face on the street and reserve our private one for the domestic interior. But in the art of Eric Rimmington, the roles have been reversed. For while Rimmington's reputation with the public rests on the exquisite still lifes he paints in the privacy of his Stoke Newington studio, the drawings and paintings he has been making on the street have remained a secret, until now, known only to the few.
This is not through any conscious decision on his part, more an accident of the way the pictures came about. "It was my Sunday painting in a way," he says. "I went out to get out of the studio and be in my London, which I love… I didn't think of exhibiting the pictures, just celebrating the place where I live."
‘Sky Light’ Oil, on canvas 30.5 x 30.5cm, 1988
Rimmington has lived in North East London for 25 years, and for 20 of those has been "trudging out" to draw and paint with a bicycle serving, like Stanley Spencer's pram, as a mobile studio. The local subjects he chooses seem to have little in common other than being generally overlooked and thus, to his eclectic and wayward eye, being full of unexplored artistic potential. Once a place takes his fancy "there's a tendency to go and dig it over and look at it and ponder over it", so the work has fallen naturally into series. The first series of charcoal drawings of 1983 focused on the old Mildmay Station and tracks and bridges of the North London Line, the second on Dalston Junction (1986) and the third on the King's Cross Railway Lands (1989). Then came the reservoir and filter beds (1990) on nearby Green Lanes and, still closer to home, his local Clissold Park, a constant source of summer inspiration to which he returns "every now and then for another look". And if that's too far to go, there's the local skyline accessible from the rooftop of his house.
Not all these series are fully represented in this show. Several of the King's Cross drawings have been sold - three to the Museum of London - and the Mildmay series has just been purchased by the Imperial War Museum. But the exhibition takes in a broad slice of the city, above and below ground, including the last few remaining paintings of the London Underground from his Mercury Gallery exhibition of 1999.
'Shirley and Tracey, Camden Town', Oil on canvas 51 x 61cm, 1997
It's a fascinating record not just of one artist's personal response to his surroundings, but of the changing face of a city in constant flux. Of all the places Rimmington has recorded in the past two decades, only Dalston and Clissold Park remain relatively unchanged. Wherever he goes, the bulldozers seem to follow. The old 19th century Mildmay Station - demolished. The King's Cross Railway Lands - ploughed up for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The filter beds on Green Lanes, once "a bit of light and space, the lungs of London" - built over with a vast housing estate, their mid-Victorian folly of a station converted into The Castle Climbing Centre.
"A lot of the things I've done in drawings and paintings tend to disappear [...] I've never gone out intending to record things for posterity, but that's what happens." - Eric Rimmington.
It's as if he carries around a curse for being what he calls "wilful" and "awkward", and going out looking for beauty in all the wrong places. That's not to say there's anything quaint in Rimmington's vision or that, like the Prince of Wales, he'd like to censor modern intrusions. He sees intrusions as part and parcel of city life. It's all about the opportunistic plugging of gaps: a gap in a terrace to put a shop if you're a developer, a space on the kerb to park your car if you're a shopper, a crack in brickwork to put down roots if you're a buddleia. A city is a shifting mass of minor incursions, until a major development comes along and makes a clean sweep, and the whole process has to start again from scratch. Until that happens, the landscape is alive with contradictions to occupy and divert the awkward eye. There's the white cube of the new brutalist tower block peeking through the screen of a spreading chestnut tree in Clissold Park; the illuminated JET sign flagging up the petrol station behind the Shiloh Pentecostal church off Kingsland Road; the solitary street lamp raising its swan-like modernist neck over the neoclassical heads of the King's Cross gasholders, as if to say I'll see you out. (With only one left standing, it almost has.)
There's no particular point being made in these pictures, just observations. The familiar subjects, like Rimmington's local rooftops, are obviously painted for pleasure, though here the Sunday painting analogy ends. The perfect Corot-like calibration of colour and tone in these little studies puts them beyond the reach of most professionals, never mind amateurs. Their absolute rightness brings that gasp of recognition, that feeling of familiarity with a place we've never been, which grows as we look from one view to another and start to get our bearings by local landmarks: the upturned V of a white-painted gable, a particular configuration of chimney pots, the pom-pom of a council-pollarded tree, the flash of bright green copper roofing in the sun. It's so precise, and yet so freely achieved: a lick of orange here on a chimney pot, a stroke of blue there for some asphalt roofing, an upward swoosh of violet over there for some cumulus cloud. The realism is pure illusion. Once you start to look it's obviously done with paint, but still the image refuses to fall apart. That's when you know you're in the hands of a master.
'Tall Tree', Graphite, charcoal and conte 65 x48cm, 1992
In a contemporary art world falsely divided by a peace line between traditional and conceptual camps, the only sensible place to sit is on the fence. Representational art without ideas is as one-sided as conceptual art without vision. The best art, like Eric Rimmington's, will always have both, even when motivated by no higher purpose than the desire to get out of the studio on a summer's day.
Laura Gascoigne, 2003