The Grenfell Tower Fire Paintings
At approximately 6 a.m. on June 14, 2017, I woke to smell of smoke. I rushed from my bed and soon realised that smoke and falling debris from a fire, barely 1 km away, had engulfed the area.
Having dressed, I grabbed my iPhone and made my way south towards the fire. Outside my home I found cinders strewn across the roads and pavements. These would later be identified as the blackened remnants of the now notorious cladding that had been fixed to the exterior of the tower.
By the time I reached the vicinity of Latimer Road tube station I realised that a horrific tragedy had taken place. Unsurprisingly, journalists were there in droves.
I spoke to people and I took photographs until my phone battery was exhausted. So I returned home and recharged and also prepared my Nikon digital SLR. Then I returned to the area surrounding the fire.
That day I took more than 800 photographs. Before I returned home shortly before 9 p.m. I was determined to somehow paint some of the events I witnessed.
I began a large painting a few days later. It consisted of two square panels.
I had a title for it, Blood Money, and four months later I thought I had finished it.
I put it away and began some new work, including developing more images based on the events of that day. One of them, Black and White and Red All Over, eventually coalesced with the events surrounding Brexit.
Then in April 2019, someone remarked that Blood Money looked in need of revision; I agreed. So I worked on it for no more than a week, painting quickly, until I arrived at a conclusion.
The painting also had a new title, and the panels had been parted. The result was Formed in Fire.
Like those who lived in Grenfell, I too live in social housing in North Kensington. The fire has had a devastating effect on the local community. I believe it was the result of years of both local and national government neglect. But housing problems in Europe’s richest borough failed to attract much in the way of media attention until the fire took the lives of 72 people. However soon afterwards the media circus moved on while never failing to take its eyes of the Brexit show.
I believe that art has a vital role to play in making people ask themselves questions. Like why is that in a supposedly wealthy country some have so much while others live in poverty? And there is no getting around the fact that in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea communities are divided by more than wealth.