Cafe-Restaurant with Roadworks

A number of my recent paintings reflect upon the 'provisional' nature of contemporary cities. Much of my work draws on my experience of living in and around London for most of my life and many areas where I've lived have been close to sites of major infrastructure developments such as the A406, the M11 Link Road (A12) in East London, and last year's Olympics. On a city-wide scale, there's also an awareness of other major projects affecting London such as the redevelopment of Kings Cross, and Crossrail. These developments take many years, and, while assurances of the benefits of them may turn out to be well-founded, several years of living alongside the disruption to the smooth functioning of the urban environment can make these benefits feel a long way off: these infrastructure projects often imbue a 'provisional' nature upon the city. What it does is undermine the apparent solidity of the built environment: places familiar for many years disappear seemingly overnight, and the personal memories and associations connected to them melt away.

My appreciation of the 'provisional' nature of the city suggests a misguided ideal of the perfectibility of the urban environment. Unlike cities such as Paris or Rome for example, where the city centres appear unchanged for many years, London is dynamic, reflecting its global position. It is impermanent, the lived experience of the contemporary city is that of a state of transition. As an artist there is a joy in the textures of the 'provisional' city: visual clutter, unexpected juxtapositions, temporary solutions, weathering, graffiti, demolition and construction all provide an interesting arena for the facture of a painting. The choice of subject matter for the paintings is informed by living in the city with an acute awareness of what is happening to the built environment, but ultimately the paintings also fulfil visual, aesthetic criteria.

Text for solo exhibtion at The Crypt at St Marylebone 2nd-30th April 2013. The image is Cafe-Restaurant with Roadworks, oil on paper, 10.2x15.2cm.

Nicholas Middleton 2013


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