Art Matters

Kingston’s Hidden Histories


The images produced are part of my MPhil project examining if visual images can reveal hidden history, in particular the working class of Kingston between 1880 and 1930.  I am exploring whether, by interpreting the image using the practice of Painting, Photography and Performance, some trace of working class people, unrepresented in historical narrative or archival collections, might be revealed.

See below images for more information.


Two versions oil on canvas 90x 70

I used the photograph of my father with a cat, taken in an unknown garden in the late 1930s. It is likely it was either the garden at the back of my fathers’ mother’s house in Longfellow Rd Worcester Park, or was taken in my mothers’ mother’s garden in the Crescent, New Malden.

I decided to work using oils on very a large canvas, using the photograph as an inspiration for a large-scale black and white oil painting.  I had never been taught how to use oil paints, so it took time. I found them surprisingly responsive, once the techniques were mastered regarding mediums and layering. I made two versions of this image. Though in parts the detail on the photograph is clear the cat is extremely indistinct. I was then left with the vacancy created by the indistinct image in the middle of both canvases.

One summer morning I asked my son Callum to pick up the cat who was sitting beside him so that I could take a photograph of the cat to use as a secondary source. However the photographic image was so good, and in the moment of accident the doorway and the summer day had meant Callum was in the same position, standing in the sunlight without a shirt, that it completely echoed the image of my Father. I subsequently painted an equally large painting of Callum. Including the cat.   I did not use the photo to get a better likeness of the cat in the first painting. It seemed right to leave the image unclear. 

Woman and Boy Looking two versions. Oil on canvas 50x40  and 40x40

I found a photograph from 1893 that was taken of a crowd looking at the damage resulting from the first recorded car accident. An Army officer had been driving on Kingston Hill, and crashed when he was forced to avoid a horse and cart in the road. The site had obviously drawn a large crowd, young and old standing together. I made various drawings and paintings from the different combination of individuals, the most successful was one of a women and a boy standing beside her. They appear strangers to one another. After several versions, I found that by moving the paint across the surface, the images seemed more real and more human than when the lines were clear and solid.


Oil on canvas

Man and tie 30x26. Man and cap 30X26 man in Hat. 30x30. Man. tie canteen80x80

There were only three photographs I could find of the inside of the Kingston Workhouse. One was of an empty corridor. The second was taken in the Laundry. The third was taken at a mealtime -the image depicts six inmates sitting at a meal while being supervised by two Workhouse staff.

I drew and painted each of the inmates. First small scale and then large scale,one large canvas. I wanted them to have a scale and depth that was of some echo of the traditional portrait painting.


Oil on Canvas  40x30

The only photograph in the archive that depicts a large group of workman is a photograph of a group of tanners posing for the photograph  (circa 1930), in front of the tannery works.  There are 30 men, arranged sitting and standing in their work clothes. I made drawings and sketches of the image before making a small oil painting.  I would like to make the image much larger. Giving space for each of the individual men. The size I would like to work in would be at least three metres by two metres- if not 6m by 4m. so it would take on the effect of a wall mural. It is an image that could be projected onto the side of a wall in the centre of the town. Near to the site of the original tannery.


Man in Hat . Oil on canvas 40x40

I found an image of the Market Place in Kingston in a box of magic lantern slides that I knew was not held by the Kingston Heritage centre. The image is taken sometime between 1890 and 1913. There are three different groups of figures. The closest is a man in a horse drawn cart looking at the camera. His cart is parked outside of the Druids head public house. The second group is far away, standing by the Printing Office. These men appear middle class, having met in a group for some purpose. The most interesting figures are the two men standing by the fountain, in the middle foreground, standing by the shrubsole monument, which was a working fountain at that time. They appear to be vagrants, who have laid their bags and stick on the floor, in order to rest and drink water.

The image distorts space as it makes the distances much further and yet the two vagrants much closer. 

 I arranged a time, very early on a Sunday morning for a re-enactment of the vagrants in the positions they had adopted at the Shrubsole monument. I then used the photographs to make new drawings and several paintings.


 Oil on Canvas

Gang 70x60 and Two Builders 40X30

I found several images of my father as part of a builders’ gang, taken in 1938.

I made various drawings and sketches. I then made two oil paintings-  The Builders Gang 70x90 and Two Builders 40x30. Both are black and white.

Both depict the cameraderie of men while working in manual jobs. I attempted to concentrate on the individual men, though the image wasn’t always clear. In deciding the cropping, I am aware how my interpretation affects and redirects what the image is saying. 


I began experimenting with Ipad drawing using the photographs of the men in the workhouse as well as the builder’s images.