Lara Prendergast Lara Prendergast

‘I’ve seen the bare bones of London’: street painter Peter Brown interviewed

Pete the Street describes how the country has changed under lockdown

‘I was really interested in painting the relaxing of lockdown. I wanted to find people again’: Fleet Street, by Peter Brown.

‘I’ve been seeing the bare bones of London,’ explains the landscape artist Peter Brown, who is known affectionately as ‘Pete the Street’. We meet on the corner of St Martin’s Lane, where he is painting the view facing north, taking in the Coliseum, the Duke of York theatre and an Iranian restaurant called Nutshell. ‘The pandemic has been a good opportunity to paint all these West End theatre awnings.’

What has he noticed about London during the pandemic? ‘UPS vans, everywhere,’ he says. How about Deliveroo bikes? ‘I’ve spotted less of those.’ Has London changed over the past year? ‘I met a bloke on Old Compton Street who described how it feels really well to me,’ Brown says. ‘He used to work as a performer and spent a lot of time touring theatres in English seaside towns. Back in their day those theatres were grand and impressive, but they had become neglected and rundown. He said London now reminded him of the faded glory of Blackpool.’

The city may be looking a little forlorn but has it not been an opportune moment to paint the capital, with the streets cleared of the usual crowds? ‘Well, it was great seeing the actual architecture and it was interesting on a technical level seeing the lie of the land, say between Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill. Ultimately, though, it was really depressing.’

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London reminded him of the faded glory of Blackpool

In the first lockdown, Brown decided that he couldn’t really claim his work was ‘essential’ so instead he retreated indoors, along with the rest of the country. He lives in Bath and spent most of last spring painting his family as they readjusted to their new life, staring at their phones, baking in the kitchen, doing the washing-up. In one of his paintings, there is a bottle of Ribena and a tube of Heinz ketchup on the kitchen table.

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