Two artists are captivated by our Brixton streets and paint what they see. Simone Richardson was drawn in to find out why
Frank Gregory moved from Jamaica to Brixton when he was 10 and has now been living here for 57 years.
“When I was in Jamaica I was free to run around and play outside. When I first arrived in Brixton, my Mum didn’t want me to go out. It was a big change for me,” he says.
Frank, who went on to work as a builder, remembers his short period of six months attending the now-closed Effra primary school on Effra Parade.
Shortly before he left, he went to an art exhibition and remembers how it made him feel, saying: “It amazed me how they got things on the paper”.
When Frank was 11 he moved on to Tulse Hill secondary, also now closed. “I got expelled from Tulse Hill for some reason,” he says. He went to a school in Battersea which gave him more opportunity to paint than any other.
“I was always interested in drawing, but the way I saw art it was like a flight.
“You were seeing so much distance and so many different things in the art gallery. It was amazing, and that’s how I really started picking up art.”
He managed to sell some paintings, but now is not much interested in selling his work.
“Now I do not sell them as it is not really my liberty. I paint to keep my pictures and to try to balance myself so that I have got enough,” he says.
He exercises his love of art by making it in central Brixton on Windrush Square under its giant plane tree.
Frank has brought up three children living in Brixton and one still lives with him.
“Brixton is a bubbly place,” he says. “There is a whole heap of different obsessions in Brixton that may be wrong, but Brixton is what I am used to – a lot of different things happening.
“Everyone has to make themselves happy
“Painting is a relaxing thing. If you are thinking what you are doing, that makes you relax with contentment within yourself.”
Frank Gregory has found his own contentment through painting so, if you are in Windrush Square, look out for him working there. He carries many paintings with him; if you ask, you may be fortunate enough to persuade him to buy one from him.
Painting everyday life
Another artist who is a fan of Brixton is Benedict Flanagan, who also enjoys painting its many different aspects.
Born and bred in Dorking, Surrey, he hasmoved from Brick Lane to Brockley to Brixton, and now Herne Hill.
“My Mum encouraged my art from a young age,” he says.” I was never going to do anything else.
“I studied in illustration in Camberwell [College of Arts] when I was 18 and moved to Falmouth Uni to complete my degree.
“I then attended London Fine Art Studios to improve my drawing.
“Although I initially started my career as an illustrator, since attending the Studios I have been drawn to oil painting and working ‘plein-air’ and this is now the focus of my work.”
Benedict – who also calls himself Ben – is now working two days a week as a secondary school art teacher in Ealing.
“It’s a nice balance between focusing on my painting alongside having a profession and working with people,” he says.
“I usually sell my art through Instagram.”
His passion for painting means he does it almost every day … “I paint. I enjoy depicting the everyday world around me, whether it be landscape, portrait or a still life.
“It is important as it reflects everyday life, a reflection of my world and those close to me.
“I draw a lot too – people and places in my sketchbook.
“I try to be subtle, but people usually don’t mind if they catch me drawing them. I think it’s important to draw every day if possible.”
His art helped Ben through the lockdown “for sure”. It allowed him to paint as much as he wanted to and he “improved quickly” in this period.
“I wonder if there had been no lockdown whether I would have as much opportunity to paint now.
“I think my girlfriend became the most painted person in London when we were in full lockdown!
“She is very tolerant. She said my days were, tea, paint, paint, tea, paint, paint etc. I do enjoy a good cuppa.”
Ben’s Brixton art confirms his love for the place.
“There is always so much going on, it’s always lively.
“Brixton village is a favourite. There are always people to chat to or new stalls to explore.
“My top place is Electric Avenue. The architecture is amazing, and the colours of the clothes and shops make it such a vibrant place to paint.
“You always meet fun and interesting characters too, so definitely my number one.”