Memories of a Free Festival : ‘The Adoration of the Cockney Rebels’ Bermondsey Carnival Southwark Park Acrylic paint, ink, charcoal ,chalk on canvas 160cmx120cm

 

Make me Smile (Come up and see me)’ by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, 1975

You’ve done it all, you’ve broken every code
And pulled the rebel to the floor
You spoilt the game, no matter what you say
For only metal, what a bore!Blue eyes, blue eyes
How come you tell so many lies?

Come up and see me, make me smile
Or do what you want, running wild
There’s nothing left, all gone and run away
Maybe you’ll tarry for a while
It’s just a test, a game for us to play
Win or lose, it’s hard to smile

 

A painting begins in many ways, weaving itself together. One day I find a postcard in Southwark Park lying on the path before me – Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure. An icon of Englishness, Moore was also a rebel artist. His unconventional treatment of the figure in space has always impacted on my work. I pick up the postcard and take it back to the studio.

A year or so later and the faithful are gathering beneath the Victorian bandstand at the annual Bermondsey Carnival in Southwark Park. As usual, Bermondsey Beat’s Phil Burkett and Russell Dryden have put together a fine line up. Steve Harley is on stage singing  ‘Make me smile (Come up and see me)’ to his home crowd as the soft early evening sunlight breaks through the branches of the poplar trees. The song’s beautiful melody is at odds with the bitterness of  lyrics about the trappings of wealth (‘metal’) that threaten the freedoms of self knowledge through artistic integrity and faith in the power of art.

My eye is caught by a lone man listening to the music and observing the scene with  a copy of Southwark News spread before him. He playfully traps a wasp in his plastic pint glass. I’m reminded of the figure in the Moore postcard that I found. The ‘rebel on the floor’. Moore – an iconoclast artist himself- made sculptures about absence. In his sculptures form that is not revealed has more weight that what is perceived to be present.

……….’You’ve fought the rebel to the floor’…………………..

moore

Reclining Figure by Henry Moore 1951 (Tate)

Reclining

Reclining figure detail from ‘Adoration of the Cockney Rebels’

And so I pick up my pencils and sketchbook at the Bermondsey Carnival and I’m thinking about this most English interpretation of the word ‘carnival’.  It’s a far cry from Rio to Bermondsey, the former proud home to the Peek Freans Biscuit empire, but there is all the heart and soul that I need to fuel my work right here.

 

Sitting with my wife and children I begin to draw the faces in the crowd.

 

A tattooed woman watches proceedings and raises a tumbler of white wine to the band. In the background beyond are the bowling green and  a water fountain dedicated to the life and labours of local man Jabez West. Erected by community donation in 1884,  it is also reputedly London’s first statue to a working class man. Mr West was a keen advocate for the Temperance Movement.

tatwoman

My daughter delights in the afternoon sun and we try to keep an eye on her as I work. Sketches of her and our infant son and the reclining man spill from my book as she flutters away to the crowd chasing a butterfly; the littlest rebel.

 

The adoration on the faces of those present at the spectacle reminds me of crowd scenes that I’ve been studying in the Adoration paintings of the early Renaissance artists.

bruegel

‘The Adoration of the Kings’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1564

A doting grandfather presents his young son with a gift for use on the boating lake in the park just as a shaft of light illuminates the Frisbee stored in the pram above the boy’s head. Momentarily lit it becomes a halo of golden light. Lovers embrace tenderly beneath the shade of the trees. Mr Soft is written on the ice cream van as Steve Harley sings on into the crowd.

grandpa

 

lovers

The sunlight catches an ice cream tub lid and illuminates the words ‘ ..arte d’or’ as a policeman snags a boy’s helium Zampa the Millwall lion.

artedor

A discarded toy Spitfire harks back to a darker time when the borough was ravaged by the Luftwaffe.

spitfire

Headlines in the Southwark News reveal the concerns of the times-  another London cyclist’s needless death;  local MP Simon Hughes losing his seat; the recent passing of much loved local character Barry Albin-Dyer and the looming gloom of Brexit.

papers

London’s developers capture the most headlines with the newest launch of more ‘luxury’ homes. An girl rests a crutch on a leaflet about the Canada Water Masterplan.

Mr Harley’s song plays on…..

……. Blue eyes, blue eyes, how come you tell so many lies?…………

The old Surrey Docks is being redeveloped again- the pursuit of ‘metal’. Promises about the extent of new social housing quotas are under scrutiny.  The fabric of this community is changing fast as the order of the city is redefined and the its roots are threatened.

……There ain’t no more, you’ve taken everything………….

And still the song goes on as the crowd faithfully sings back the words …….

…..You’ve done it all, you’ve broken every code

And pulled the rebel to the floor

You spoilt the game, no matter what you say

For only metal – what a bore!…….

gun

 

balloons

 

I think back to a memory from a previous carnival that I attended when a fight broke out – the rebel fought to the floor by the minions. As I was watching the scene I thought of my artistic hero Mr William Hogarth and a fight he witnessed at an earlier Southwark Fair.

hogarth

Detail from William Hogarth’s engraving of ‘Southwark Fair’ 1733

minions

Even Mickey Mouse has turned away from the scene.

rebel

I was reminded of savagery of two crows I’d seen before in the park, holding down another crow to peck it.

crows

feet

It’s not initially clear why you begin to make a painting. You just need to, just as you need to breathe. Ideas and meanings form as you work on an image.

Initially I made this painting to celebrate the free local authority run festivals, concerts and carnivals that I’ve enjoyed whilst growing up In London. Central to the rich human tapestry of city life, they are open to all-comers. These civic events unite and liberate us from the ordinary every-day. They are raucous, ragged and naive, so sings David Bowie, the greatest South London rebel of them all, in the beautiful song ‘Memory of a Free Festival’. Bowie equates his free festival experiences to feelings of enlightenment or Satori in the Zen Buddhist tradition.  But he is wryly aware that this is only a transient fleeting London moment….

‘Touch, We touched the very soul
Of holding each and every life
We claimed the very source of joy ran through
It didn’t, but it seemed that way…………..
We walked back to the road unchained….’

Frida

 

bowie

 

 

‘Memory of a Free Festival’ by David Bowie, 1969

 

The Children of the summer’s end
Gathered in the dampened grass
We played Our songs and felt the London sky
Resting on our hands
It was God’s land
It was ragged and naive
It was Heaven
Touch, We touched the very soul
Of holding each and every life
We claimed the very source of joy ran through
It didn’t, but it seemed that way
I kissed a lot of people that day
Oh, to capture just one drop of all the ecstasy that swept that afternoon
To paint that love
upon a white balloon
And fly it from
the topest top of all the tops
That man has pushed beyond his brain
Satori must be something
just the same
We scanned the skies with rainbow eyes and saw machines of every shape and size
We talked with tall Venusians passing through
And Peter tried to climb aboard but the Captain shook his head
And away they soared
Climbing through
the ivory vibrant cloud
Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
And We walked back to the road, unchained
“The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party.”

 

EGR098 Adoration of the Cockjney Rebels_A4_300ppi

Memories of a Free Festival : ‘The Adoration of the Cockney Rebels’

Bermondsey Carnival Southwark Park 2016

160cmx120cm Acrylic paint, ink, charcoal and chalk on canvas

Copyright edgrayart.com 2016

With thanks to Phil Burkett and Russell Dryden, Steve Harley, David Bowie, Henry Moore, William Hogarth, Pieter Bruegel. 

 

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