Thursday, October 24, 2019

And Now For Something Completely Different....

Around 25 years ago, not long before I moved from my home of 14 years by the Grand Union Canal in North Paddington, a near neighbour began secretly embellishing the back yard of his one bedroom housing association flat with an extraordinary collection of home-made artworks.

Gerard 'Gerry' Dalton, who died last month at the age of 83, left behind an astonishing number of crudely modelled and painted statuettes that fill his back yard and line a narrow 50 metre strip of land that runs between the canal and the Victorian terrace that overlooks it. There is no public access, and the display is largely hidden from view by two rows of neatly clipped bushes. As things stand, the property will be cleared and re-possessed by Genesis, the housing association that owns it, on 31st October.

According to a small ad hoc group of admirers who have started a crowd-funding campaign to preserve the works in situ, there are around 200 concrete and mixed media sculptures, 170 wall mounted works and a 50 metre long mural.

It is hard to know what to make of them. Irish-born Dalton, at various times a station porter, factory hand, and catering worker, clearly had a mischievous take on the historical record. The concrete statuettes – sculptures, artworks, monuments, call them what you will - are between two and three feet high, each with a roughly cast plinth, many of which are inscribed with the names of what appears to be a random selection of mostly long dead public figures. Emperor Vespasian, Prince Albert, assorted other royals, obscure aristocrats, Marcus Aurelius, Hercules, and Lord Lucan all get a look in. All the figures have painted red eyes. What was he trying to say?

Inside the flat, every inch of wall space is covered with framed pictures, mostly cut from magazines, with additions of paint by the artist. On the floors of the bedroom and living room are gaudily painted wooden models of Hampton Court, Buckingham Palace and various other stately homes.

Given the quantity of work on display, both inside and out, the flat is surprisingly clean. This presents further puzzles: where did all this productive labour take place? Casting concrete is a messy business. No sacks of cement are evident, nor the tools necessary to mix and model it. And how did several tons of the stuff get there? 

I guess the unanswered questions just add to the mystery of what the campaigners call a ”monumental body of site specific outsider art”. Whatever its significance, the campaign to save the collection has, according to The Telegraph and The Times, attracted some high profile supporters, including Jarvis Cocker, Nicholas Serota, Sir Charles Saumarez Smith CBE, Louis Platman, curator at the Geffrye Museum, the artist Richard Wentworth CBE and the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association.  If it survives the 31st October deadline (Genesis, not Brexit), maybe all will become clearer.  More pictures here.