Since I have started Body of Work and Contextual Studies modules and to a certain degree with the previous Documentary module, I have become more and more interested in regeneration and its issues. I came across Frank Laws while I was specifically searching for artists who address gentrification etc in their work. Admittedly, I was looking for artists like Laws to help contribute to my extended written project’s argument but nevertheless I feel I stumbled upon an artist who raises pertinent topics and whose practice is evolving. Moreover, it was interesting to see an artist whose work specialises in something other than photography.
Frank Laws is a painter based in East London who focuses on social housing, in the wake of gentrification. Laws is specifically fascinated by council estates with particular interest in the brickwork – ‘[Laws] was immediately struck by the beauty of the area’s social housing estates – his time as a bricklayer gave him a particular appreciation of the work that had gone into the postwar buildings.’ (Jansen, 2019). Laws paints each brick so the paintings contains intricate detail but recently his practice has evolved so this feature of his work is less paramount: ‘I’ve recently stopped using [bricks] as an aesthetic tool as I feel actually they’re not adding to what I’m finding important and started to become just habitual.’ (Laws cited in Jansen, 2018).
In a way, my body of work in Reconstructing Deptford bares similarities to Laws’s oeuvre. For example the buildings he paints take on a life of their own; they suggest something of the people and their lives that goes on within the often council estates’ walls. This can be observed in the following commentary on Laws’s work: ‘Urban landscapes of Frank Laws represent the other side of seen buildings positioning them as silent attendants of lost memories, experiences and desires.’ (Takac, 2015). The buildings Laws depicts assume an anthropomorphic quality in my eyes. With my composites, I have supported them with poetry to form a diegesis which makes more explicit a connection with the buildings/landscape features and Deptford’s people. Again, the landscape features in my images take on an anthropomorphic quality, although this time it is obvious (through the poems) rather than suggested.
In contrast, a way in which our work differs is in the use of people. Laws usually deliberately omits people from the scene; choosing to suggest a connection with the people who surely live inside the solid brick buildings. Laws often adopts the position of the voyeur: ‘In his paintings, Laws maintains a spectator’s view as an outsider looking in.’ (Jansen, 2019). My work is more direct and people aren’t suggested but feature heavily within the landscapes; making a decisive connection between people and place. I feel both approaches work but function in different ways; Laws’s work possesses mystery and intrigue because the people are imagined. With my body of work the people are already there and it is up to the viewer to make further connections based on both people and place.
Laws is aware of the changes occurring in and around the council estates he has lived in East London: ‘His paintings chronicle buildings whose communities have changed dramatically – 40% of what was social housing is now privately rented’ (Jansen, 2019). Also: ‘Laws depicts his tower blocks standing in the midst of fast-paced urban life and rapid gentrification.’ (Jansen, 2019). The council estates remain while everything else is changing. It seems to me Laws is socially aware of gentrification but has decided to address this issue in a different way to my body of work. Laws embraces one of the last remnants of post-war architecture in the council estate, while I have focussed directly on the changes themselves.
Pembury 2014 (2014) is a series of images where Laws painted a rendition of a wall on the Pembury estate. Laws then subsequently cooperated with a youth club (local to the estate) where they painted on copies of his painting (Laws, 2018 cited in Jansen, 2018). It is also the exhibition Laws is most proud of (Laws, 2018 cited in Jansen, 2018). This work is an example of the content not only being incisive with regards to social housing, but also the context in which it is presented providing pertinent discourse. For Laws, ‘the locality of the show meant it was [the youth club’s] show as much as mine … just made the experience feel more engaged and involving the residents than just doing a workshop or an exhibition to one particular audience.’ (Laws, 2018 cited in Jansen, 2018).This shows the exhibition was valuable not only for the artist but the local community in which it was displayed.
Fig. 1 Laws, F. (2014) Pembury Youth Centre Workshops. 2014. Collaborative prints. [Chalk on Giclee Print] At: http://franklaws.com/#/eastward-avenue/ (Accessed 13/07/2020).
Jansen, C. (2018) ‘The Painter Documenting London’s Social Housing’ In: Elephant 05/12/2018. At: https://elephant.art/painter-documenting-londons-social-housing/ (Accessed 10/07/2020).
Jansen, C. (2019) ”Future relics’: the painter capturing the beauty of council houses’ In: The Guardian 09/10/2019. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/oct/09/future-relics-london-council-houses-frank-laws (Accessed 10/07/2020).
Laws, F. (2014) Pembury 2014. At: http://franklaws.com/#/eastward-avenue/ (Accessed 13/07/2020).
Takac, B (2015) ‘Frank Laws: Celebration’ In: Widewalls 04/05/2015. At: https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/frank-laws-celebration-lazarides-rathbone (Accessed 10/07/2020).