Laura Gascoigne

Down but not out | 3 March 2012

It’s not every J.D. Wetherspoon’s pub that has a preservation order slapped on it. In fact, I’m prepared to bet there’s only one: The Trafalgar in Portsmouth, Grade II-listed in 2002 for its mural by Eric Rimmington.

Rimmington was 23 in 1949 when he won the commission to decorate the clubroom of the old Trafalgar House Services Club and chose to paint a view of Portsmouth and Southsea Station with passengers coming and going on the platforms. More than 60 years on, comings and goings on station platforms haven’t lost their fascination for the artist, though for his latest London show at The Millinery Works he has plunged down the metropolitan rabbit hole to pursue his observations underground.

For the past six years, Rimmington has been roaming the Underground, haunting its warren of passages, stairs and tunnels, immersing himself in its subterranean atmosphere — especially its light — and indulging his visual curiosity about ‘all the impedimenta and bits and stuff’ that most Tube travellers scrupulously blank. The result is a collection of 43 paintings which, between the worn red brick of the old Circle and District Line platforms at Paddington and the armour-plated strip-lit corridors of the Jubilee Line extension, reveals a world of dizzying variety held together only by its enamel signage.

Rendered in paint, the red London Underground roundel and its little echo, the ‘No Smoking’ sign (David Hockney would have painted these out), acquire a curious charm; even the bleak black-and-white ‘STAND CLEAR — DOORS CLOSING’ warnings over the lifts — flouted by opportunists dragging wheelie cases — greet us like old friends. But Rimmington’s eye also finds oddities in the familiar. In ‘Arches’, a dark tunnel disgorging a rushing train rhymes disconcertingly with the illuminated arch of an empty stairwell; in ‘Going Down’, the skewed perspective of descending strip lights sidesteps the expected vanishing point, while the treads of the down escalator play Escher-like tricks, appearing as risers.

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