Noel Forster

Quicktime movie and stills above are from "Hearbeat" a video for Channel 4 1987 about Ellingfort Road in Hackney. In the video Noel Forster made a painting in a day 'on camera' on the top floor of 11 Ellingfort Road dedicated to the residents of the street .


Where were you born and when?
"Seaton Delaval, Northumberland 15th June 1932"
When did you first move to the East End of London?
"The East End, I moved to London first in 1960/61 and to the East End, not this particular street but to the East End in the '70's"
Where did you move first?
"I was in Space Studios, Martello Street, Richmond Rd, I think Martello Street was the earlier one, I get confused about dates in the '70's. I moved here in early 1979 to this house."
Why did you move first of all to space and then to here?
"Well I needed a studio and there were lots of studios available in the East End and it seemed the place whereorganisations like Space and Acme had most of their accomodation. Most of the accomodation being cheap and some of it being destined for demolition.They ran out of money, the council ran out of money."
And how did you fit into the East End?
"Well, I liked it very much.but society has changed a lot in 20 years but I think its still alright living here."
Did you feel then that you were part of an artistic community?
"Oh, definitely I made a lot of friends there."
What organisations would you say were instrumental in helping you?
"Well Space was first. Then I registered with Acme I didnt like Space I think Acme were more professional in the way that they managed their property and Space had a policy that made it difficult to actually buy the property that you were in where as Acme actually encouraged that. Acme were always trying to get rid of artists by making them take more responsibility which was very progressive. I have a great admiration for what Acme did as a result of that. I still hear stories about Space being the same, somewhat amateur"
Can you remember the train of events that led up to you living in the East End, the reasons, the impetus that started your move?
"I had a studio in the Fens from about 1970 and I gradually abandoned that and eventually sold it. I was looking for a studio for three months when I came back from America in 1971 in the summer and I had found this Fens studio, there was nothing in London that I could find. I think the availability of studios increased a great deal in the '70's and it was quite easy to get one in the mid '70's. I moved around a lot in Space studios and then got into Acme and acquired some degree of permanency."
Did you exhibit work in the East End?
"No except for Open Studios exhibiting was not encouraged.Hackney Council regarded artists as elitist in those days and we were all a great deal poorer than most of the people in Hackney, we were living off part time teaching and paying studio rent as well and so they regarded us as elistist."
How about in the later years?
"Oh well its changed now.I'm sure its become much more spectromatic in its approach to the Visual Arts."
So for the last decade have you exhibited in the East End?
"I have had shows at Flowers East but I was thinking of the kind of places that people in studios would show in, like some of them had galleries themselves. There is nothing wrong in that now but in those days, the '70's you tended to want to show in the West End. I showed in 1982 in Air Gallery and I proposed that Air should move and come to the East End. I told Nancy Balfour that Air should come East, she said that she had problems getting to Roseberry Avenue from Eaton Square let alone the east. Everyone has gone to the East End of London now. Acme as you know was in the West End in Shelton Street.
There is a new gallery now above the Approach Tavern called "The Approach"thats seems to have a great future and is well on the map already"

Why do you think so many artists collected in the East End between the years 72 and 97?
"Because of the availability of studios, many, many industrial buildings for let and cheap rents"
Do you think your own work has changed during those years?
"My own work was established in its present character in 1964/65 and it has stayed substantially the same, but that is to say that every artwork is original and of course has its own identity and there are developments within its overall character .Its changed, I think there is a diminution in the large size works since I left the Fens Studio simply because of the size of studios. I made a few very large pieces since, a 16 ft piece that was exhibited at Air in 1982 and two 40ft pieces neither of which have been seen.Theres another 20ft piece that has been exhibited at Flowers and at The Slade Gallery over the last 3 years. I keep getting urges to work big and feel another lot coming on shortly I hope."


"Untitled 1974 Acrylic on Linen Three canvases 60x40in each"

Why did you stay in the East end?
"Well, I had no alternative but to stay and moving is such a trauma.Anyway I moved actually within the East End quite a lot from studio to studio improving, and the final move was in '79 to this property. I now have a studio and also have a store in Carpenters Road with Acme in Bow. As one gets older the vast majority of my work becomes like a Mastadon, heavy and eventually you collapse under the weight of your own work if you live long enough."
When did you give up your Martello St studio?
"I can't remember. Martello St was Space...nice days those in that building."
I think it was 1983 but lets put a question mar
Do you have a particular memory or ancecdote?
"Well the whole thing was that I had that whole Martello St studio, the bottom corner, quite large, I knocked a few studios together and I blanked out the bottom half of the windows with white paper so that people could'nt look in but I had the top half and I looked out of the top at these enormous trees and I felt there was a great sort of pathos to the fact that these enormous things were drawn out of plague pits and the victims of the plague.I was reminded of Blakes childhood vision of a tree filled with angels with their tiny wings bespangling every bough like stars.
As he said at the age of eight.
And it went in line with my own work, the notion of a facade of a cathedral covered with sculptures being a kind of page of sculpture and I like that emotional transfigurationby light in painting. So there a lot of things came together. Nature came together in that lovely place London Fields."


"2000 + 1990" Oil on linen 54x48in

"One suspects that the golden age, that mythic return of a perfect society on earth, has a grip on Noel Forsters imagination, just as it did on Matisse who painted variations on the theme again and again. Hence there is no anomaly in him introducing into the last painting, identified by its precise title, a ciphered figure 2000, the number upon which our utopian dreams are inevitably tending to converge....In 2000+Forster offers us one corner in which the colours of the organic world are strongly imbued.The rest is golden"

Stephen Bann 1990
How do you feel you fitted into the East End way of life?
"Well I do, I like the pubs, I like the curry houses, what else is there? The markets"
But it is quite violent?
"Well there are not any concert halls in the East End which I regret.The thugs I abhor, my dear old Rover 2000 car had its panel smashed in in broad daylight when I was was sitting in it in Bethnal Green Road.It was kicked in by thugs and the boys broke the windows. So, I took it to France where it is respected, loved in fact. So, you really have to have armour here to survive, but I like the markets and I like the people very much. The other bits the roughness and the violence isn't significant as it is not part of the life, its part of the death of the East End."
It is part of the history though.
"Yes, but where the Krays lived is nearby you know and they visited here, it was a self-policing area."
"Well there were great riots continually when the Fascists and the anti-Fascists seemed to get into opposing ranks outside York Hall when there is some meeting in there which happens quite a lot. It bubbles.The political tensions bubble."

Do you think that artists have affected the area?
"No.There are no connections between the community and the Visual Arts. hackney Council regarded mainstream artists, Fine artists as elitist. I think the East End has affected art. You did a thing on Ellingfort Rd, you know. I mean it produced those, my pieces and I have indicated how I was involved and influenced by the area, you get your energy from the environment."
Would you say that because of the volume of artists and the volume of really high calibre artists, influential artists, that this area has had a massive impact on British art ?
"No it has not. Artists have actually used the energy that was available, the raw energy, but I don't have any respect for the promotion of the Visual Arts by local authorities in this country. They built no studios, its been left to artists and organisations to do that, to acquire buildings and I think society as a whole should take more responsibility for recognising the visual artists in its community.
"Its getting better!"

Noel Forster interviewed Nov.27th 1997 in Bethnal Green.

Back to Map

Other Educated Persons