JAMES KELSO, ARTIST, ONE-MAN WRECKING BALL
In recent years I have painted two pictures of the old granary at Britwell Salome. The building is no more. Demolished. The same fate has befallen many of my architectural subjects. I recall one monstrous example. The view from my first flat in London overlooked Lodge Road Power Station, NWI. The building was gargantuan, a cathedral of power. I loved it. You could drive a bus around the rim of the chimney, it was that big. This was the 1960s. I was always drawn to industrial architecture. There were two reasons for this. The first was the places tended to be quiet and often deserted. You could paint uninterrupted. The second was they were more interesting than domestic buildings. Their form followed their function. Ask a child to draw a house. It will be not so different from the output of highly paid housing developers. Not everything was bulldozed. Gilbert Scott’s Bankside was saved by the skin of its teeth and became Tate Modern. (A wit once said they left the rubbish inside!) The beautiful, feminine, hyperboloid shapes of power station cooling towers are often voted as a favourite eyesore. I love them. People turn out in droves to watch them being destroyed, like public executions of olden times. I’ve attended several. They’re huge fun, provided you’re upwind. There was a third reason to paint industrial architecture. It wasn’t just that I was London born and bred, near Lots Road, Chelsea, so power stations are ‘in my blood like holy wine’. It is a matter of aesthetics. What’s that Japanese world view based on the acceptance of transience and imperfection? Ke-mo sah-bee? No, that’s the Lone Ranger. Wabi-sabi, yes, that’s it - the capacity to appreciate beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Put like that it sounds a pretentious way of thinking back on all those cold, grey days standing alone on the wastelands of derelict factories, and canal banks, and railway sidings, when I was younger and indescribably happy. In fact, looking back, all this happened without my really noticing it. The sequence was, along I’d come, out came my easel, along came the wreckers. It wasn’t meant to be like that. It just happened down the decades. That was the way of it. So, if you see me standing outside your dwelling, pencil in hand, my advice is, check your insurance.
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