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.

Grenfell Tower Fire, June 14, 2017
Grenfell Tower Fire, 09.04, June 14, 2017

 

Grenfell Tower Fire
Grenfell Tower Fire, View from my flat, 06.16

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.

Grenfell Tower Cladding Cinder, 06.36
Grenfell Tower Cladding Cinder, 06.36

 

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.

Media interview, Bramley Road, 06.48, June 14, 2017
Media interview, Bramley Road, 06.48, June 14, 2017

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.

Blood Money, October 19, 2017
Blood Money (diptych), October 19, 2017, Oil on MDF, 122 cm x 244 cm

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.

Black and White and Red All Over
Black and White and Red All Over, 2019, Oil on MDF, 137 cm x 122 cm

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.

Formed in Fire
Formed in Fire, 2019, diptych – each panel is 122 cm x 111.5 cm (not including frame), oil on MDF

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.