Tilbury Docks

Tilbury Docks

 

The urban landscapes of London have fascinated Kate Bland ever since she moved here more than a decade ago. A search that began then with some simple practical goals – a home, a studio, perpetual bliss – turned into a habit and, more recently, an obsession. For almost a year, whenever her day-job in publishing has permitted, she has set out to explore new parts of east London. Walks quickly lengthened into bike rides, and then became expeditions by boat, aerial railway and cable car.

It’s common to think of London as a city in flux, but the cliché can easily mislead. In one crucial way, the capital’s environment is very slow to change. Though slum clearance, bombing, the decline of the docks and gentrification have wrought great transformations, no evolutionary process eliminates what came before. Neighbourhoods, even if torn down and rebuilt, don’t lose the history that has passed through them. Streets and structures aren’t just occupied by their current inhabitants; they are haunted by generations that lived in them before. Converted factories, chapels and waterways are almost defined by their past, and even the most derelict house was once a home.  

Kate has tried to pin down the tectonic shifts with a sketchbook, before fixing them in watercolours. Through these penciled and painted records, solid structures disclose fluidity and transience, along with lingering hints of their human purpose. Elevations, façades, and intersections, designed originally to conceal rather than reveal, expose patterns and fluctuations that inspire her to piece together what lies within. The pigment testings that appear in many paintings serve as an index. Each colour has its symbolic value, allowing for glimpses into intangible spaces that would otherwise elude representation.  

Continuities and consistency aren’t all that the pictures show. The scale of a city is monstrous, and any Londoner worth the name knows its power to alienate. The capital often feels out of control, and even personal perspectives can easily become obscured or fragmented. And yet, atomisation is just a small part of the story, metaphorically as well as literally. Cities only exist because of their citizens, and every step taken in London adds to the memories embodied in its architecture. Understanding this has strengthened Kate’s own sense of belonging, and these paintings map some of the most important journeys that got her there.