Monday, 22 February 2010

A picture of Piccadilly Circus

Whilst a-wander through the backwaters of Stoke Newington, the grey, cold, wet Sunday just gone, I chanced upon a hitherto unseen charity shop, nestling amidst a crop of Turkish cafes, bookshops and social clubs behind old shop-fronts, through the windows of which could be glimpsed moustachioed chaps playing cards and drinking tea.

It was one of the gradually disappearing breed of charity shops that haven't got their act together yet; the kind I like. As the traffic shushed past outside, I picked through its dimly lit interior – a space stuffed to the gills with the usual mix of weary high street threads, creased paperbacks and curver boxes full of broken plastic toys, presided over by a large quiet man in a feathered porkpie hat, gazing from his throne by the cash register into the impending twilight outside.

The desiderata of the charity shop hound (vintage clothes, old LPs) were not much in evidence, and pickings were thin (there's only so many badly scratched copies of Fifa 99 for the Playstation 1 a guy can own, right?) and I had just exited the shop when I spotted a small picture in the window, an image of Piccadilly Circus, at night in the rain.

I assumed it was a popular print, dating from the era of 'The Green Lady', but I was drawn to it, and at three quid I thought nowt to lose. I re-entered the shop, and signaled my interest to the proprietor, who quietly lumbered over, and extricated it from the ballast of gimcrack surrounding it.

"It's nice" he observed, holding it up to the light. "It's not a print you know" And indeed it wasn't. I only had a £20, so when he started fishing around in earnest for change, I called it a fiver, and sallied out into the dusk bearing my prize.

Taking it home I saw that it is indeed a painting – an oil painting. It's small-ish (roughly A4) and depicts – as I said before – the statue of Eros* in Piccadilly circus at night. From the old neon signs I guess it's from the 50s or 60s – there's an ad for Players cigarettes above where the Gap is now whose equivalent you pretty obviously wouldn't see these days, and the thing that looks like a clock is a 'Guinness Time' advertisment which you can get a glimpse of more clearly here. Also, the fountain and statue is encircled by road rather that pedestrianised. It's slightly naive in style, but not completely unsophisticated in technique, and very atmospheric. The lighting feels very evocative, with the hoardings casting an attractive glow on the rainswept road.

I remember my good buddy Sam telling me about a mirror printed with the Southern Comfort label that hung in the family home (it's now just over the road in Dalston), and how, as a child, he would spend hours imagining what the figures within were doing; and I could almost see myself investing a similar curiosity in the figures present here – a woman sat at the base of the fountain, a policeman just visible in the bottom-left corner. Is he going to speak to her? is she innocently waiting for someone or is she an agent of the night from Soho, taking a breather whilst out plying her trade?

Who knows. What I do know is I really rather like it. Shame my current tenant contract forbids me from hanging pictures really, so for the time being it's going to lean against the wall, next to my desk.

P.S. Apologies for the fluff in the foreground. They're my resident dust bunnies – so much less troublesome than normal pets.

•Apparently (according to Wikipedia, anyway) the statue in Piccadilly Circus doesn't actually represent Eros, but rather his brother Anteros. I quote: "In Greek mythology, Anteros (Greek: Αντέρως, Antérōs) was the god of requited love, literally "love returned" or "counter-love" and also the punisher of those who scorn love and the advances of others, or the avenger of unrequited love." Blimey.


  1. It's got 'something' - definitely an atmospheric period piece - reminds me of the paintings of Paris from the same era - the like of which are still hawked in the 'arty' quarters of the city more in hope than expectation.

  2. Yeah, in all honesty, it probably aint worth jack (though surely more than five quid). I'm still faintly mesmerised by it though – from the tang of historicity that clings to it, and the idea that – however subjectively –someone recorded something in oil, on canvas, and forty years later, here it is.