Timothy Betjeman at All Saints, Margaret Street

In a guest post, artist Timothy Betjeman writes about his new paintings of All Saints Church, Margaret Street in London’ s West End.

I was born and lived most of my life in America, so I have come to know England, and especially London, where I now live, through painting parts of it over the last seven years. 

Timothy Betjeman All Saints Margaret Street

Timothy Betjeman All Saints Margaret Street

It is a frequent occurrence for me, as a primarily ‘plein air’ painter, to be working in a place that has caught my interest for whatever reason, and to discover that its history at some point entwined with that of my grandfather, Sir John Betjeman, especially if the place happens to be a church.  All Saints , Margaret Street was no exception.  When I began painting at All Saints, I was quickly informed by a parishioner who took note of my surname that he had enthused about the church in a series on Victorian Architecture for the BBC in 1970.

I somewhat wished I’d discovered it myself—and it really does feel like a discovery, hidden like a treasure between tall buildings, invisible save for its spire until one is practically in its courtyard.  But my jealousy soon gave way to a comforting thought, that this building, designed for a purpose by William Butterfield in 1850, and still used for that purpose today, could attract our mutual admiration.

I was very young when my grandfather died, so I never really knew him.  When I come upon buildings like All Saints, that I know he touched, or was touched by, and if I feel the same thing, there is a sense of knowing him through that.  I think that my engagement with these places develops in a different way than it did for him, but the initial attraction to great architecture and the atmosphere it affords is a major source for me as an artist as it was for him.

I liked the ritual of working in the church

My introduction to All Saints Margaret Street was in 2012 by my friend Alistair Fletcher who brought me to a service there, promising it had a very good choir (it did), and urged me to do a painting of its eccentric interior.  After the service I spoke to the vicar, Alan Moses, and he was enthusiastic about the idea, so I started showing up 3 or 4 times a week.  I would set up my easel in the morning near the back of the church and work through the 1:10 Mass, and pack up when the electric lights came on just before Evening Prayer.  I liked the ritual of working in the church so much that I ended up doing ten paintings instead of one, and a series of etchings as well; so I spoke to the vicar again at the end of it all, and we decided to do a show.

Timothy Betjeman, All Saints Margaret Street

Timothy Betjeman, All Saints Margaret Street

I’m accustomed to painting on the street, where people are moving about me very quickly and their movement must be integrated with the relative stillness of the architectural forms.  Painting at All Saints was unique in that the dynamic was reversed.  The people (and usually there were one or two, even between Masses) stayed perfectly still while the wild zigzags and gilded decoration on the walls and floor seemed to turn on and off and shift with the light as it came in sudden streaks through the high chancel windows.  I spent a long time studying the way natural light came in and competed with the invented light of the designs covering the inside of the church.  There was a kind of weather system to the place that related to but was wholly different from the one outside.  One feels this as soon as one enters the dark quiet of the church and inhales.

In the course of the 6 months or so that I spent painting at All Saints, and the time I have spent there since, I am very thankful for how kindly I was received by the priests, wardens and all of the parishioners.  It is a rare place, and truly a living church.

Timothy Betjeman At All Saints’  exhibition, will be open daily (12 – 6pm) from  22 – 27 October at 7 Margaret Street, London W1W 8JG.   A portion of the sales will benefit All Saints Church

More information about the exhibition 

More about All Saints,  Margaret Street

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: