Over the next few months I have asked people to select one of my paintings, and from this, freely write their thoughts. I’m thrilled that Owen Hopkins has agreed to contribute for this, the first one. We met at an event at Sir John Soane’s Museum here in London, for the book launch celebrating Roger Zogolovitch’s and Simon Allford’s award winning build, 81-87 Weston Street, for which Owen had written a piece.
Here’s the painting and this is what he had to say:
Most of the images we see of Brutalist architecture nowadays – whether in the many Twitter and Instagram feeds that have grown up over the last few years, or in the huge number of coffee-table books on the subject – are of buildings rendered into a kind of sculptural abstraction of de-contextualised black and white forms. These images are, of course, a world away from realities that actually play out in these buildings.
What attracted me to Peter Wylie's painting of Robin Hood Gardens was how it differed from these fashionable depictions of Brutalism. The building's geometric facade fills the composition yet also evades the perpendicular geometry of the picture frame. Rather than serving to anonymise, here the building's grid reveals the complexity of what lies within. Each aperture has its own individuality, in the colour of the curtains, how they're drawn, or in the different clothes shown hanging from the line, which corresponds to the person or people whose flat lies behind.
Wylie shows the building as alive with use and inhabitation, as a frame for the lives that play out inside it, rather than as a disembodied sculptural object to be marvelled at on a screen. Brutalism is without doubt the most contested of architectural styles. Wylie side-steps the polarisation in views that so often occurs when considering Brutalist buildings by revealing this one in all it's compelling complexity.
Owen Hopkins, architectural writer, historian and curator.
I first visited that estate, convinced by a documentary film maker at the National Film and Television School, back in 2009. This visit became part of Martin Ginestie’s graduation film, Robin Hood Gardens (Or Every Brutalist Structure For Itself), central to which was the re-appraisal, keep it, or pull it down debate.
I went back several weeks ago. The sound protective curtain wall once pierced for views of what lies within, is now for the builds absence. Humiliatingly, it exists almost as a hoarding advertising ‘the new kid on the block’.
Interestingly when I re-worked the following painting, I was drawn as much to the evidence of Le Corbusier flaking paint, that I at one time attached to my canvasses, then covered, as the paint was applied. Bits of decay that I had picked up at various locations, now revealed, once the painting had been concluded. At the time, always thinking, if this is happening with the Granddaddy, what chance for the rest.
Writing in AJ magazine (Architects Journal) back January 2009, when I had the exhibition inside Flat 121 in Goldfinger’s Balfon Tower, Jess Bowie concluded on this very theme: ‘Three pictures are accompanied by the words “with Le Corbusier flaking paint”. It turns out they contain paint from the walls of Le Corbusier’s own studio and his Villa La Roche in Paris. (Wylie had recently visited and found it needing a little TLC. Like those who collected up pieces of the Berlin Wall, he pocketed some of the flaking paint.
The presence of this paint on the canvasses gave the event - which now not only moved from Le Corbuiser to Goldfinger to Wylie to Goldfinger, but via the flakes, back to Le Corbuiser again - a satisfying, if dizzying, circularity. It also added an elegiac note, reinforcing the sense of dilapidation and of a utopianism that has not weathered well.’
There’s plenty more to report. My drawings and photographs of my trip and stay in the Bauhaus at Dessau two years ago, are now in this centenary year worth reviewing for a possible painting or two. The recent stay in the cells at Couvent La Tourette and visit to ‘Site Le Corbusier’ at Firminy, in 2016 awarded World Heritage status, will once thoughts are gathered, become significant subjects for my work.