Hayley Harrison: Reshaping Lubetkin

HayleyAs part of the Bevin Court Community Restoration project, the Peel Centre Art Club was invited to create artworks and curate an exhibition in response to the rich social, architectural and artistic heritage of Bevin Court and Peter Yates’ mural: Day and Night, Winged Bulls. In May the group visited Bevin Court, only a minute’s walk from the Peel Centre. Many of the members live locally, and have done for many years, but didn’t know of Bevin Court. It was lovely to see this building that was unknown to the members and myself, and that we had often walked past, become familiar in the following weeks.

During the tour the group heard about the many histories of Bevin Court. The group questioned and investigated possible landmarks and symbols within the Mural. They took photographs of details that interested them individually, and these photographs were used as a reference later on. They were all really drawn to the architecture, and the impressive staircase and landings, all offering views of green surrounding areas, and of picturesque views of London. On a return visit the members shared stories of how the landscape had changed, discussing what would have been seen by the original residents.

In the following weeks the group began to explore their photographs, separating different elements within the building and mural, and debating what they were intended to represent. They also studied the Finsbury Coat of Arms, which originally inspired Yates’s Mural. Through drawings, paintings and collage they then brought these elements together, playing with colour schemes and re-combining shapes from the mural. Each member had a different approach; works included Phoebe Smith’s mosaic version of the mural, illustrating the different ratios of colours used, Ann Gregory’s painting of one of Yates’ dolphins emerging from Lubetkin’s stairwell, and Maria Luisa Castello’s re-interpretation of the foyer as a museum of artefacts, playfully returning the bust of Bevin which had long since been removed from the building.

At this point the group was asked to think about how to bring their ideas together for the exhibition, and what that would look like as a final outcome. Referring to Yates’ Mural they decided on individual representations of what they considered important in a community, brought together in one collaborative piece, Ebb and Flow. What they termed important was carefully debated and categorised. Many of the items discussed were everyday parts of a community, including parks, markets, and train stations (which were the inspiration for the title Ebb and Flow).

Fauziah Cevet painted Paddington bear, inspired by the statue on Platform 1 in Paddington station, where she often took her children. Philomena McCann’s goat, from her childhood home in Ireland, raised the idea of how important animals and their mythologies are within our communities, as was the bull and a dolphin in Yates’s mural.

This project highlighted the unknown histories that have happened right on our doorstep, and the new histories that are made in their retelling.

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Cyril and Renske Mann: remembering Bevin Court

Bevin Court has been home to many remarkable people. One of its most famous past residents was the artist Cyril Mann. In 2013 an Islington People’s Plaque was erected to commemorate Cyril’s time at Bevin Court. His Widow Renske Mann has been kind enough to share some of her memories about the time they lived at Bevin Court.

Cyril Mann self portrait

Cyril Mann – Self portrait

In his  biography, Times art critic John Russell Taylor describes how Bevin Court led Cyril Mann to paint some of his finest works during the 1960s and beyond, in very difficult circumstances.

75 St Pauls by Cyril Mann

Cyril Mann – 75 St Pauls

When Cyril moved to Bevin Court in 1956, he could barely believe his luck, says his widow, Renske Mann “Cyril had previously lived in a gloomy flat in Paul Street, near the present-day Barbican,” Renske explains. “As it had all its windows barred, there was almost no daylight, forcing him to paint in electric light for several years,”  

 

In contrast, flat 108 on the seventh floor was flooded in daylight. It had uninterrupted views of the city. For the first time, Cyril – by then in his mid-forties – enjoyed a bathroom with hot and cold water on tap. In the kitchen was a BabyBelling cooker and a formica-topped table, but no fridge or washing machine.  

Cyrill Mann Interior with red chair

Cyrill Mann – Interior with red chair

At around 475sq ft, the flat was  small. Half the space – the  bedroom – stored unsold pictures and the tools of the trade: brushes, paints, easels, art books and a large Victorian mahogany chest, which Cyril had kept since attending the Royal Academy before the War.

Renske moved into the flat with Cyril in 1960 when he was 48 and she had just turned 20, arriving from Holland a year earlier. Renske remembers how she and her husband lived, worked and slept on a single bed in the living room.  Often they didn’t leave the flat for days. “We were totally immersed in his art,” she says. “There was no TV or radio.”

“Cyril never had the luxury of a model before and and took full advantage. He painted in a frenzy, day and night, often driving me to despair with exhaustion. Our flat was like a factory. Smells of oils, varnish and animal size (a glue used for sealing canvases) melting on the cooker, permeated everything.”

Cyril Mann Studio Corner

Cyril Mann – Studio Corner

“Our bathroom was often out of bounds, too. Cyril brought back buckets of London earth for use in pottery, which he taught at evening classes. This soil had to be  ‘washed’, which he did in the bath over several days. This meant using the communal baths in Ironmonger’s Row.”

Cyril was in poor health, mentally and physically, suffering from stomach ulcers and depression. Renske persuaded him to give up teaching and concentrate full time on painting. She earned a fair wage as a bi-lingual English/Dutch secretary, but Bevin Court’s rent took almost half. “Like most people those days, we smoked, but sacrificed eating for cigarettes if we ran out of money.”

“We scoured Chapel Street market for cheap veg and foods, like bacon offcuts, misshapen eggs, broken biscuits and mushroom stalks.  Yet, we never felt deprived or insecure. ‘If God looks after the sparrows, He’ll look after me,’ Cyril assured me. I hoped God would look after me, too”

Cyril Mann View from Bevin Court (North), 1960

Cyril Mann – North View from Bevin Court

 

They were friendly with their neighbours next door at Bevin Court, Mr and Mrs Neville, and their little daughter, who must be in her sixties by now.  Mrs Neville worked for the local  ‘fleapit’ in Upper Street and sneaked them free cinema tickets.

This was all long before Islington became fashionable. Camden Passage had no antique shops or galleries. A framer, called Mr Peyton, then started a bric-a-brac market, which was the start of the present antique shops and galleries.

Cyril Mann View from Bevin Court (South), 1961

Cyril Mann – South View from Bevin Court

 

While it had not been built long, Bevin Court was starting to look shabby. There were no trees or landscaping around the building. The entrance was open, without a front door and windswept. “You walked from one side to the other, right through the building. None of the floors had security doors,” Renske recalls.

Inside the entrance hall was a bronze bust of Ernest Bevin, the politician. On the other side was the typically 1950s mural by Peter Yates, softening the ‘brutalist’ interior and providing a splash of colour.

Cyril  admired the Lubetkin architecture and famous staircase. “He made me look upwards, exclaiming how beautiful it was. He regretted the flats were not named for Lenin, as originally intended.”

Cyril and Renske moved out of Bevin Court in 1964. They bought a small house in Walthamstow, a poor and unfashionable part of East London. A gift from his art patron, Erica Marx, helped them to pay the deposit. Their daughter, Amanda, was born there in 1968.

Cyril died on January 7, 1980, aged 68, after years of ill health and spells in mental hospitals and following an art career that had spanned over half a century.

His work  is represented in major private and public collections, including the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Guildhall Museum and Art Gallery and the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow.   

For more information on Cyril Mann please visit Piano Noblle website where you can also buy  “The Sun is God, The Life and Work of Cyril Mann” by John Russell Taylor. 

Bevin Court: an exploration of place

An exploration of place by: Adila Nasrin,  Alvin Tampon, Bryan Francis Herrera, Dana Bell, Joshua Louis, Kaiira Ologunro, Keva Oscar, Mahla Nasrollahi, Mitul Depala, Rahim Ali & Sophia Oscar

 

As part of the HLF funded Bevin Court community Restoration project, on the 10, 11 & 12 August  twelve young  artists took part in our Bevin Court inspired workshops with artist Ella Medley-Whitfield. The teams spent three days visiting Lubetkin’s Bevin Court, learning about the architecture and the  history behind the structure, creatively engaging with  the community who live there.

In response to their interaction with the physical space of the building, the group created some amazing artworks through the mediums of drawing, sculpture, photography, audio tours, soundscapes and printing.

They looked at loads of styles of interpretation including: Window Tower, Map Collage and Lino Printing, Audio Tours and Soundscape, Building Bevin Sculptures,  Drawing and sculptural pieces and Windowsill portraits.

We launched an exhibition of their works at Islington Museum on the 13 August. The exhibition is on display at Islington Museum until the end of August 2015. Take a look at the gallery and be inspired to get creative.

Every Time I Think of You

The Blueprint Theatre Company’s film Every Time I Think of You is a film about 80s Islington, based on interviews with Islington residents and the traders of Chapel Market.

The film centres on an urban myth, perpetuated by locals, and harks back to a comparatively innocent era – before mobile phones and the Internet changed our lives forever. The film is one of many that feature Bevin Court and its residents.