Every now and again I walk across Waterloo bridge to the Strand as part of my daily jaunts around town. I particularly like the walk between the Strand and Charring Cross, especially when the weather is good and there are plenty of people about. I like to observe people when I can, and I just love watching the younger generation scurry around like ants in their worship of the superficial and banal.
It was during one of these crossings last summer that I first noticed an artist painting an ‘OXO tower’ view of the Southbank or Bankside as they refer to it these days. He appeared to be quite an ordinary bloke, simply dressed in Jeans, trainers and a t-shirt with none of the fashionable down-dressing self conceit you’d normally associated with “artists”. I’d never seen him on the bridge before and was curious enough to stop and watch him work for a while. I actually became quite engrossed and had to remind myself more than once to move on.
The next day I set out over the bridge fully intent on seeing if the artist had returned to continue his work, and was pleased to see him back at the same spot. I happily spent a few idle minutes watching this craftsman at work. I could not help but admire the experience, skill and knowledge that moved the brushes between the palette and canvas.
I was struck by the thought that this was more than a man trying to capture his surroundings. It was more a man defining his world with the skill and mastery that only a true craftsman could reproduce. The painting was not intently naive or pretentious nor was it provocative in its concept or execution like much of the contemporary works you see these days. This was more in the tradition of Constable, Courbet and Monet expressive realism at its very best, but at the same time modern vivacious and in no way derivative or contrived.
When the artist eventually finished his painting after another week or so I felt quite quite sad. It was a feeling that comes from knowing that his particular masterpiece would most likely be destined for a corporate reception or boardroom where it would pass un-noticed by the grey men of this world. I tried to be positive and thought If the artist were lucky the painting might even end up in a low-end gallery sold for a few hundred pounds. At least it would be bought for love! I consoled myself romantically.
At the end of the day (as footballers always say) whoever got this piece would be privileged, but they would never as privileged as I had been in witnessing its execution.
Of course this is all in complete contrast with the horror that is the subject of the painting, Bankside! It’s quite a suitable irony really, to think that such a talented artist should capture a landscape where so much bland non-expressive work is represented is quite tickling. I doubt that Banksy or his prodigy will lose any sleep over the joke. I imagine their appreciation or real art is in equal measure to their own meagre talents..
The not so..
The soulless stencil gimmickry that patronises this small stretch of the Thames remains blissfully unaware of how near greatness came to it. It’s not a bad thing really..